Loss of club culture looming as Manly’s downfall Roar Rookie By Sleemo, 20 Apr 2015 Sleemo is a Roar Rookie Plenty has been said and written about Manly’s tough 2015 to date and the break-up of the champion team that has performed so admirably since the mid-2000s. Having been written off a number of times since the 2008 premiership, it appears that finally, the doomsayers are getting their wish and Manly are looking at a tough couple of years. It cannot be understated how critical a role injuries are playing in the team’s horror start to 2015. Six or seven would-be first graders were out of action against Canterbury on Friday, and a similar number missing from most of the team’s games so far this year, it would be foolish to write them off completely. A fully-fit Manly side would push for a top-four spot this year. However, injuries are part and parcel of an NRL season, and the reality is that no matter how heavy its impact, it is just something that needs to be dealt with and no record book is going to qualify a team’s performance by reference to the injuries it has suffered. The bigger issue for the club is how to manage the transition period the team is about to go through. Phil Gould today wrote a great piece about Manly’s arrival at the end of their great era and how it is unfolding. He posits a classic hypothetical for league fans: if you had to choose between your team making the top eight every year but never winning a premiership on one hand, or on the other hand winning one premiership every 15 years but finishing in the bottom four for 12 of those years, what would you choose? Manly have managed to avoid either of these scenarios. Since their 13th-placed finish in 2004, the club has made the finals every year, has finished in the top four six of those years, made four grand finals and won two premierships. It has outperformed every other team in the competition over this time. The team has challenged for the premiership every one of those years, except perhaps for 2005 and 2010 where they just crept into the finals. Those years were anomalies. This is lauded as a great success in what is a salary-cap-controlled competition. A great run such as Manly’s shouldn’t really happen. The key for every club is to figure out what can give them an edge and extract as much as they can out of it. For Manly, that edge came in the form of a core group of players who stuck together, took pay cuts to stay and just happened to be bloody good at playing footy. Nathan Lyon, Matt Ballin, the Stewarts, Brent Kite, Jason King, Tony Watmough, Steve Matai. All were at Manly for the great majority of that run and some have been there from day one. All of these players played rep footy at one stage or another, many of them were tight off the field as well and they created something that seldom exists in professional sport these days – a great culture. What sets them apart is their persistence and their dedication. Other than Kite and Lyon, most of them spent a couple of years in reserve grade before making the NRL team. Glenn Stewart, for example, spent three years in the seconds before becoming a regular at NRL level. That doesn’t seem to happen as much these days – players are impatient and want to play NRL at 19 and aren’t willing to stay at a club to fight for a spot over the forthcoming years. They just go somewhere else where they’ll be paid more and/or get more game time. The notion of sticking it out doesn’t seem to exist. This great culture played a part in the team’s sustained success. They were written off after a bad start to 2009 following their ’08 premiership, in 2011 with many experts tipping them to miss the finals, and in 2013 and 2014 when their age was cited as an inevitable slowing factor. Every year they proved the detractors wrong and kept performing. Naturally though these things have to come to an end and we’re experiencing the start of it now, albeit several years after many predicted. I fear that we will never again see an era or team like it again, not from Manly, not from any team. The issue is how the club will deal with it. With good list management the pain will be minimised and who knows, they might get another group of great players who go on to do the same thing But as I mentioned, getting a group of players to stay together for such a long time and keeping them there doesn’t seem to happen so much anymore. For that reason it’s not worthwhile placing much stock in a club’s Under 20 results because most of them probably won’t end up playing first grade for the same club. But even if Manly were to get lucky with another key group of players like the class of 2005-14, it will take time; they had a few rough years leading up to the start of that great run and I shudder to think of experiencing that again. Gus Gould’s hypothetical is interesting but I disagree with it because there are far too many intangibles that affect where a team finishes and no way will it be so black-and-white between two potential outcomes so disparate. But what does this all mean for Manly? The management last year made a calculated decision to let Glenn Stewart go. This was done to keep Daly Cherry-Evans and Keiran Foran. All three were off-contract for 2016. At the time I supported the decision as a club fanatic because I saw it as the right move heading into the future. However, the management didn’t do two key things: they didn’t lock in Foran and/or DCE first, as they were merely stockpiling money in the hope that it would guarantee they stayed; and they didn’t accurately value the importance of the role Glenn Stewart had. In the fallout, Watmough left, Foran will be gone next year and DCE has signed for the Titans. The lesson to learn is that in a salary-cap-controlled competition where all of the tangibles are tightly regulated to keep the playing field as level as possible, the culture of a club gives it an edge. Unfortunately for Sea Eagles fans, the demise of that culture will lead to the demise of their club.