Manly 2017 Shute Shield Season Review – With Brian Melrose

After missing the playoffs in 2016, Manly were the team to beat for the majority of the 2017 season and claimed the Shute Shield minor premiership by eight competition points.

Unfortunately for Marlins fans though, the wheels fell off there. Manly were ambushed by Eastwood in the opening week of the playoffs and couldn’t match Warringah a week later after losing a handful of key troops to injury.

The straight sets exit was far from a fair reflection of Manly’s overall season but that means little to Brian Melrose and his side, who will spend summer contemplating what could have been.

Overview with Brian Melrose: 

“It was a year of great improvement but I guess we won everything except for the ultimate prize, which is fairly disappointing,” Melrose told Rugby News.

“If you are being analytical about things, towards the end of the year there were some things that we could control and some things that we couldn’t control. The things we could control were periods like the first 20 minutes of our opening semi final (against Eastwood), when our discipline let us down. For a team that had given up under 10 penalties a game all year, we had nine penalties against us in the first 10 minutes. A yellow card, a penalty pushover try after six minutes, then an intercept try and we were down 20-0 halfway through the first half. It was a disaster.

“Then there were things we couldn’t control. During that time, four of our blokes broke bones and had season ending injuries and that obviously changed things. We had a fairly magnificent comeback after that, but you could say that that first 20 minutes jolted things.

“It’s a regularly asked question (if peaking too early hurt Manly) but there has never been a coach in any sport in the world that has been smart enough to work out how to avoid that completely. The myth that a team can play at 75% for most of the year, then click up to 100% in the finals, I believe that’s rubbish.

“I think what you’ve got to remember is that Manly came seventh in 2016. We were playing in the most even Shute Shield competition in recent memory, so to start we just needed to get into the top six because there was only a small margin between the teams in the top six and out of the top six.

“We needed to put ourselves in the race and fortunately we got off to a really good start and won quite a few games. I said all year that I didn’t think we were that much better than the other teams, we just found a way to win games. I never felt that we were ten lengths better than anyone, we just happened to win by half a length on quite a few occasions. By doing that, we looked up after a couple of months and we were 9-0.

“It always gets harder towards the end, teams get players back and you need to be at full strength to win the competition. We had injuries during the season but we were able to cover them but in the finals, we lost some serious players and that didn’t help things. Earlier in the year, we had time to restructure things but after that Eastwood loss, we didn’t and we came up against an in form Warringah side who were too good on the day and they rightfully went on to win the competition because they were the best team at the time.

“Our defence fell away towards the end of the season but I thought for a large part of the year, our defence was quite good. Our energy and competitiveness was great and we won a lot of big moments in games by competing hard and playing attractive footy.

“They say success is a process and sure, we got back into the race this year but every season you are there to win. Nothing is guaranteed for next year, so we need to take every step again to get in the race in 2018 and if we can do that, then maybe we’ll have learnt something and can go on from there.

“Everyone is obviously looking and hoping to progress and our job is to help them get there but we are hopeful that we’ll retain the majority of players that don’t go on to higher opportunities. One or two may retire but we expect the rest will be playing for Manly if they’re not required in pro footy.”

Standout(s) players: 

“Adrian Hall got our best and fairest but we had a lot good players this year. Adrian was our captain and was very consistent all year. I thought James Hilterbrand had a strong season, Harry Bergelin was very good again and in general, most of the backline players shone at various or numerous times of the year.

“The few Kiwi boys that came across looking for an opportunity did really well. Cameron Bailey was great, Kevin and Gunnz Fuavao stood up so they were great additions, then Josh Bailey continued to improve and be a threat at all times.”

Which of your non-contracted players deserve to play higher honours? 

“If he keeps working on his game, Josh Turner is a player that is certainly good enough to play at the next level. Adrian Hall is a really consistent player who could easily progress. Sio Tatola got our most improved this year and he came from third grade the year before. He’s a fit, fast prop and if he can improve his scrummaging a fraction more, then he’s definitely good enough.

“There are a number of players that are good enough but again it’s very difficult to get to Super Rugby level and the NRC showed that in fairness there is a decent step between club and Super Rugby and you have to be pretty good to get there.”

What does Manly need to do between now and round one next year? 

“I think I need to take responsibility for the fact that maybe we spent too much time trying to reshape our attack at the end of the year due to the changes and injuries. Maybe I dropped off on the defensive side on things and that’s something I’ll certainly look at. Clearly we went from being one of the best defensive sides in the comp to leaking more points then we would have liked in those later games. Whether that was attitude or structural, I’m not quite sure but I’d like to think we could get back on the horse there.

“I’m always looking to change and evolve things a fraction each year to try and add something a little bit new. Essentially the stuff we did last year was pretty good and we just need to build on that and hopefully that will get us in the race.”

Bold prediction for the 2018 Shute Shield season?

“I think the Manly v Warringah games will break crowd records at both grounds next year and due to continued increased interest, Channel 7 will televise the full final series on the main channel.”