Geoff Toovey says there’s no reason for his Manly side to fear that the window for another NRL premiership tilt may be closing.
Coach Toovey says the Sea Eagles’ mantra of consistency, which won them premierships in 2008 and 2011 and got them within minutes of grand final glory last year, will work again even though some core players are ageing and front row stocks have been decimated.
Last season, stars Anthony Watmough plus Brett and Glenn Stewart struggled to shake-off injuries.
Glenn and Watmough, along with Jamie Lyon and Jason King, are all aged 30-plus, and even though Brett Stewart is a couple of years younger, his knees may disagree.
But with the NRL’s premier halves combination of Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran still well and truly at their peak, Toovey is confident the Sea Eagles can contend again.
“I think there’s plenty of time. I don’t think there’s an issue,” Toovey told AAP.
“We’ve got a great group of players and as you saw last year we were probably unlucky not to win the big one and it was a quality Roosters side that got the money.
“What got us through last year was our consistency. We stayed consistent throughout the year, even the games we lost were close.
“If you compete at that level every week then you’re a good chance of finishing up towards the top of the table.
“We’ve got several good quality leaders in our team and they take on the relevant load throughout the year and lead the team in the right direction, particularly under pressure.”
The Sea Eagles are hopeful co-captain King will be fit to start the season, but the worry is whether he can go the distance over 26 rounds given he’s missed the majority of the last two and a half years with injury.
There was a point last season where it was feared King’s career could be over due to the ongoing complications with his shoulder.
Even though the Sea Eagles have continued to be dominant without King, getting him on the park shapes as a key ingredient, given props Brent Kite, George Rose, Joe Galuvao and Richie Fa’aoso have all departed.
Brenton Lawrence, who enjoyed a breakout 2013 season, will be relied upon to lead the way, and the Sea Eagles will be hoping unheralded purchases Dunamis Lui and Josh Starling can be the next big men to step up at Brookvale.
According to Toovey, his other representative stars, led by Brett Stewart, are as fit as they’ve been in a number of seasons.
“(Brett’s) still got several years left here at Manly and he’s been training more and training better this year than he has in the past,” Toovey said, after his fullback last year battled knee problems.
“I think he’ll have a really successful year.
“Glenn has trained the house down this pre-season so we can expect a pretty big season from him and Anthony Watmough has shaken (knee injury) off and he’s training well as well.”
Manly will this year try to secure Cherry-Evans to a long-term deal, which won’t be easy given the obvious attention he’s likely to receive from rival clubs.
Toovey said the combination of Cherry-Evans and Kiwi international Foran would be crucial.
“We don’t expect anything different,” he said.
MANLY SEA EAGLES
Premierships: 8 – 1972, 1973, 1976, 1978, 1987, 1996, 2008, 2011
Finishes over the past three seasons: 2013 – runners-up, 2012 – 4th, 2011 – premiers
Coach: Geoff Toovey
Co-captains: Jamie Lyon, Jason King
Gains: Cheyse Blair (Eels), Josh Starling (Rabbitohs), Delroy Berryman (Broncos), Jayden Hodges (Cowboys), Dunamis Lui (Broncos)
Losses: Brent Kite (Panthers), George Rose (Storm), Richie Fa’aoso (retirement), Joe Galuvao (retirement), David Gower (Eels)
Strength: Big match experience and the best halves combination in the NRL. Halfback Daly Cherry-Evans could finish the season as the premier player in the competition.
Weakness: Front row. The departures of Brent Kite, Joe Galuvao, George Rose and Richie Fa’aoso have put significant pressure on injury-prone prop Jason King to last a full season.
Best team: Brett Stewart, Peta Hiku, Jamie Lyon (capt), Steve Matai, Jorge Taufua, Kieran Foran, Daly Cherry-Evans, Brenton Lawrence, Matt Ballin, Jason King, Anthony Watmough, Justin Horo, Glenn Stewart. Interchange: Jamie Buhrer, Tom Symonds, James Hasson, Josh Starling.
Predicted finish: 4th