As the National Rugby League season draws closer, we look at how the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles – who exhibited flashes of attacking brilliance last season – will go in 2022.
2022 SEA EAGLES SQUAD
Josh Aloiai, Morgan Boyle, Ethan Bullemor, Gordon Chan Kum Tong, Daly Cherry-Evans, Lachlan Croker, Andrew Davey, Manase Fainu, Kieran Foran, Reuben Garrick, Morgan Harper, Jamie Humphreys, Sean Keppie, Tolutau Koula, Karl Lawton, Haumole Olakau’atu, Brad Parker, Taniela Paseka, Jason Saab, Joshua Schuster, Toafofoa Sipley, Jorge Taufua, Martin Taupau, Ben Trbojevic, Jake Trbojevic, Tom Trbojevic, Christian Tuipulotu, Alec Tu’itavake, Dylan Walker, Kaeo Weekes.
KEY SIGNINGEmbed from Getty Images
Ethan Bullemor takes the spoils as the only signing in the Sea-Eagles first team recruitment during the off-season, in which they also offloaded six players. Bullemor comes in with something to prove having been a part of the problematic Broncos side that lost most of their games in the formative stages of his NRL career. In the 25 games he played, however, he bagged three tries and banked a nice highlight when stepping Stephen Crichton to score his first NRL try in round six.
Still only 22, he is a promising addition to a very strong squad that has retained the majority of its core 17. By his own admission, Bullemor left Brisbane for a Manly side that has quality experience to learn off and he looks well set to reap the rewards over the next two years – as do the Sea Eagles with his addition to their strong existing roster.
Signings: Ethan Bullemor (Brisbane Broncos)
KEY PLAYEREmbed from Getty Images
Unsurprisingly, Tom Trbojevic will be the x-factor for the Sea Eagles in 2022 as he was last season. Arguably producing one of the best individual seasons in the history of the game despite missing the opening four games of 2021, having also only managed 7 games in 2020 and 12 in 2019.
Manly lost the four games in which Turbo did not feature, which included a 46-4 drubbing against the Roosters, a 46-6 demolition at the hands of Penrith in front of the Brookvale faithful and a 26-point loss to the later 11th placed St George Illawara Dragons. They then went on to win 12 of the 15 he featured in during the regular season as they flew home to clinch fourth spot.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Tolutau Koula was fast-tracked into the Sea Eagles top 30 squad for 2021 soon after finishing his HSC at Newington College and having been a standout in Manly’s junior representative grades.
He has made his waves playing full-back but will be up against it trying to displace Tom Trbojevic, so is more likely to feature at centre or wing – where he can use his exceptional speed. He lined up in the centres in the Sea Eagles’ trial against Canberra and raced away for an 80-metre try, though there should be much more to come from the young prospect this season.
Panthers (A), Roosters (A), Bulldogs (H), Raiders (H), Knights (A), Titans (H), Sharks (A), Rabbitohs (A), Tigers (H), Broncos (Magic Round), Eels (A), Storm (A), Warriors (H), Tigers (A), Cowboys (H), Storm (H), Knights (H), Dragons (A), Roosters (H), Eels (H), Titans (A), Sharks (H), Raiders (A), Bulldogs (A)
Following a horror start to their 2021 season, Manly flew home in great form while exhibiting attacking brilliance which ultimately culminated in a playoffs berth. Outside of reversing an earlier thrashing from the Roosters in the semi-final, their playoff showings against Melbourne and Souths left more to be desired and continued an unwanted record of having not beaten a top-4 side the whole season.
They retain the core of their squad that showed flashes of being championship material and, while their off-season recruitment drive was modest, they are stronger with the sole addition of Ethan Bullemor than a plethora of fringe-level acquisitions.
Now with Tom Trbojevic fit from day one of the season – barring a disaster – the first five fixtures will be a massive barometer on the Sea Eagles success this season. Pitted against two teams widely considered championship material and a rejuvenated Bulldogs side is one of the hardest opening schedules in the league this season – so a positive record early doors will bode extremely well.
That said, the continuity in the Manly side should only show improvements upon last year’s performances, which would put Manly right at the top of contenders. They are unlikely to get more out of Tom Trbojevic given his unbelievable form last year that should get him more attention from NRL defences, but the attention out the back should create opportunities for other burgeoning talents like Josh Schuster and Haumole Olaka’uatu.
The availability of the big trio in the spine, as we saw last season, will be the defining factor of the season as the Sea Eagles enter a premiership window governed by their aged half backs. Should they stay fit, though, it is feasible that Manly will make it a step further than their 2021 finish this season.