NRL great PAUL GALLEN writes exclusively for Wide World of Sports and will appear on Nine’s 100 FOOTY% on Monday night, debating rugby league’s big issues alongside Phil Gould and James Bracey. Watch from 10.30pm AEST!
Tom Trbojevic is a one-off player. You can’t really compare him to anyone else.
He’s a superstar. So fit, so big, so strong.
He’s got ball-playing skills, aerial skills and a high work-rate. He has excellent organisational skills in defence on top of being a freakish try-saver.
You lose so much when he’s missing from your team. Manly clearly take great comfort from having him on the field and the negative effect his absence has on them is obvious.
Yet even taking that into account, this is not the Manly that we know.
The Manly that we know are tough and resilient. They’re able to hang in there for long periods of time. They’re able to win against the odds, like we saw against Canberra just a few weeks ago when ‘Turbo’ was injured.
One thing that I’ve never known the Sea Eagles to do is beat themselves. Yet that’s what they did against Cronulla two weeks back and again on Sunday night against the Dragons, with uncharacteristic unforced errors.
It was from everyone, including their captain, Daly Cherry-Evans. They dropped it all over the park, completing at just 71 per cent.
It’s not a real difficult game when you hold the ball. If you complete, defend well and get in the grind, you give yourself half a chance of winning every week.
But again, right now this isn’t the Manly we know. The way the Dragons ran away from them was surprising if you’re a Manly fan; probably even to the diehard Saints fans.
If you were Des Hasler, you’d be starting to worry. Manly have never wanted for resilience, yet you have to question whether they’ve lost some of that with big-name players like Turbo, Dylan Walker and now Addin Fonua-Blake sidelined.
Every team runs into injuries. Sometimes you get unlucky and they happen to your best players.
But what you don’t want to see happen is the loss of identity. You can’t let it impact your brand of football and what your team is known for.
Over the past few weeks, with some of the scores put on Manly, the question has to be asked whether they’ve let that tough, resilient identity slip.
It’s just so evident when ‘Turbo’ isn’t in the side how much of a difference he makes to Manly. That’s a fact and I don’t reckon it would please Des too much.
It’s all well and good that when Turbo plays, you win the majority of your games, but Manly are a club with the reputation for handling adversity and winning regardless.
It would be concerning to Des that so far, they can’t win unless Turbo plays and they’ve fallen straight off a cliff without him. That’s unlike Manly, especially under Des.
With everyone on the field, I really thought that Manly could challenge for the premiership, building off the back of last season. Yet they’re now running 10th and especially in this shortened competition, it seems to be quickly slipping away from them.
This weekend they play first-placed Parramatta, then the Cowboys away and second-placed Penrith. That’s a tough three weeks coming up, quickly followed by away games against Newcastle (fifth), South Sydney (sixth) and Melbourne (third).
Hanging over all that is the fact that we just don’t know when Turbo might be back from his latest hamstring injury. It may be another six weeks.
If the next month goes badly and Manly are still stuck on four wins, they’re going to put pressure on themselves and on Turbo over his comeback date. It will probably take 10 wins to make the semi-finals and Manly’s hopes may well be on the line with six weeks remaining, needing to win nearly every game.
But with Turbo’s history of hamstring problems, it’s going to be very hard to rush him back. It could realistically affect his long-term future in the game.
He’s had these ongoing problems that not even Manly, a professional outfit, have been able to solve. Turbo remarked how hard he’d worked during the off-season, strengthening those hamstrings so that they were nice and even, yet unfortunately he’s had another setback.
Similar to Matt Moylan at Cronulla, we don’t know why this is continuing to happen. But it’s not something that you can gamble with. You can’t rush back such an important player before they’re 100 per cent healthy when their longevity could be at stake.
That means Manly’s other players need to find some answers.
Dragons v Sea Eagles Round 9: Presser – Des Hasler
I don’t think we’ll see Cherry-Evans have another game like he did against the Dragons, including two cold drops and an intercept. Those games can happen to anyone.
I wouldn’t be critical of Cherry-Evans. He and Jake Trbojevic are Manly’s other big-money players and they’ve consistently delivered on that status.
They epitomise Manly’s biggest strengths; they’re tenacious, competitive, involved in everything. They are the guys who can lead the Sea Eagles out of this, but they’ll need to do it quickly if they’re going to make the top eight without being tempted to take an undue risk on Turbo.
Cherry-Evans is at a good stage of his career. The ill-feeling over the Titans contract backflip, the speculation that players didn’t want him in the Queensland team, all that’s gone; he’s the Maroons captain and Test halfback.
His performances have warranted that he’s Manly’s highest-paid player. I always say you’re worth what someone’s willing to pay you, but he’s justified a hefty price tag.
Now is just another opportunity to demonstrate the kind of outstanding player he is.
DRAGONS REVAMP MIGHT JUST WORK
To score 34 points against anyone is a good effort and the Dragons were impressive against Manly.
It’s a long way back for them to make the semi-finals and I can’t quite see it happening, having still won just three games; but it’s not totally out of the question with a number of winnable matches remaining.
Their discipline, primarily a 93 per cent completion rate, stood out against Manly and that’s a big change from earlier this season. If they can play like that every week, they’ll give themselves half a chance.
It’s hard to know what a pass mark will be for Paul McGregor, having been backed to continue as coach.
A finals spot would obviously do it. If that’s beyond them, they’ll at least want to win the games that they should, starting with the Bulldogs this weekend.
Dragons v Sea Eagles Round 9: Presser – Paul McGregor
The early signs are good for their revamped line-up, specifically Ben Hunt at hooker and Cameron McInnes at lock.
As I’ve written before, I’m concerned about McInnes as a full-time No.13, as much as I love him as a player. He’s so tough – sometimes too tough for his own good.
Weighing about 90kg and coming up against locks like Jason Taumalolo, or a forward pack like the Roosters, I’d still be worried about that middle role wearing thin on him.
But I was thinking about it while watching him against Manly and perhaps the way the game’s going, getting faster, it will be a viable move long-term. You can at least say this: If anyone can handle it, it’s Cam McInnes. He’s tough as nails.
I think it’s definitely the best option for the Dragons at the moment, more from the point of view of starting Hunt at No.9.
He’s definitely more suited to the hooking role, where he doesn’t have to think as much. He gets to dummy-half and provides great service to the halves, has a good kicking game and is a really strong defender in the middle for a smaller guy.