2019 Shute Shield Season Preview: Manly

Unfortunately for Marlins fans, it was a familiar story at Manly Oval in 2018.

After showing promising signs throughout the regular season, three draws in the final six rounds saw Manly drop to fourth place heading into the playoffs, where they were beaten by Warringah and Sydney Uni consecutively.

Coach Billy Melrose knows that last year’s finish wasn’t good enough and has spent the summer preparing a new look Manly side for what may be their toughest challenge in recent years.

Overview with Billy Melrose:

“Everyone is feeling good at this point of the year, it’s the same at every club because we’re all winning the comp,” Melrose said.

“Looking back at last year, ultimately it wasn’t good enough. We’ve been so close for so many years now but we haven’t been able to get the end result. Sydney Uni were the outstanding team last year and that really showed through the finals.

“It’s not rocket science to work out that you need to be in form and be healthy at the back end of the season to be any chance of winning and we weren’t last year. We need to find a way to get there again this year, but find a way to do so and remain healthy so that we give ourselves the best chance to play our best footy at that point of the year.

“If you combine the last two seasons, our best form has never come in the finals. That’s also coincided with some injuries but that doesn’t take away from the fact that we haven’t been able to get it done.

“The clear thing out of the last few years is that you need to have a lot of depth to win the competition. The Rats had that in 2017, Sydney Uni were similar last year. You need a lot of high quality players and I think we were a few players short once injuries hit us.

“Warringah and Uni were bringing on players at the back end of games that were just as good, if not better than the players they were replacing and it’s hard to match that without significant depth.

“Manly is a club that knows how to develop players and as a result, we tend to lose guys each year. Josh (Turner) has gone to the Aussies 7s, Sam (Lane) and Dennis (Pili Gaitau) have moved overseas, then a few of our forwards have moved on, so we’ve lost a few but I’m confident that we’ve got players that can step up into those spots.

“A few years ago we set out to improve our colts program because they weren’t in the best space and we’re starting to see the benefits of that now. I expect our colts to be in the top third of the competition this year and naturally we’ll start to see more good players come out of that, a few already have.

“I don’t worry about it (the premiership drought). To win this comp you need to be extremely good. You need to get there first, which is arguably the hardest part. We’ve probably lost 40% of our starting team from last year so firstly we need to rebuild our side, get back to playing good footy and then see where we sit after that.

“My expectation is that no matter what happens, we will find a way to compete pretty well every week and if we’re somewhere near the top four at the end, then hopefully we have some fortune at the right time of the year.

“Realistically though, the way the competition is now makes the professional players more and more important. This year the teams with the professional players will get greater access to them so teams like us need to find a way to compete against them.”

2018: Preliminary finalists (lost to Sydney Uni 41-3)

Ins: Le Roux Roets (South Africa/Waratahs), Ben Cotton (West Harbour), Stefano Hunt (Brisbane), Beaudein Wakaa (New Zealand).

Outs: Josh Turner (Aussie 7s), Sam Lane (South Africa), Dennis Pili Gaitau (France), Sam Shires (Eastern Suburbs), Charlie Abel (Gordon).

Player(s) to watch:

“I suspect Beaudein Wakaa will be hard to keep out of the top team and might just fill one of those backline spots. He’s essentially a No.15 but he looks like he could play anywhere in the backline quite well.

“We’ve picked up Le Roux Roets from the Waratahs. We finally got one. We haven’t seen much of him yet but he’s obviously a very big boy so it’ll be interesting to see what he can do in our tight five.

“We’ve also got a young guy named Van Stuart. He’s had a great off season and has looked good in the trials so far. We’ve also got some other younger backs like Fraser Tui and Ben Crerar who I think can push into first grade this year as well.”

Key areas of improvement:

“Last year we improved our defence across the board and we were pretty good covering 95 metres of the field, but we just let so many tries in from close to the line. We don’t seem to leak points from long range but we struggled last year to stop sides once they got deep into our territory.

“We need to step up when we get close to our line, or it’s going to be difficult and that’s a physicality thing, a mindset thing, it was the thing that really stood out from last year.

“There’s always a few other things that we tinker with in attack, but defence is the main thing.”

Hopes and expectations for the season:

“It’s such a competitive comp but you’re always hoping to be up amongst the top four. If you’re in that range, you’re playing pretty well and you give yourself a chance to win the competition.

“If you can get near the top four, you want to be on the top. I’m not leaving any stone unturned and the players have had a good crack over summer so we’re looking forward to it. Every team is getting stronger year after year though and we need to as well if we want to keep up with the pace.

“We’ve won a lot of games over the last couple of years but we still haven’t got it done at the end. People can call it the monkey on your back, I just call it reality.

“We do a lot of winning and it’s a team that’s tough and resilient, we just need to be more resilient and play the game under pressure at the end, hopefully with our best players on the field.”

Who will Manly play in the grand final this year?

“Sydney Uni are the clear favourites based on last year and the player allocations but things can change from year to year.

“If Easts don’t make the top three, there will have to be an enquiry based on the amount of quality players they have.

“Those two teams standout, then Eastwood seem to have recruited well, Norths have a really good squad. Randwick will improve, Gordon will get better and the Rats are always up there. It’s a tough comp isn’t it.

“On balance, you’d have to say if we’re in the grand final, we’ll be playing Sydney Uni.”

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