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You can’t copy and paste what you’ve done before’: How Manly are shaking up the NRL​

Reuben Garrick, the first man to engage in a kicking duel since the 1980s, recalls the moment like it was yesterday.

“I remember picking it up and it was the exact kick that I had practised in training,” Garrick says with a rueful grin. “I thought, yeah, let’s do it. And then I put in a bludger of a kick. I remember seeing [Manly teammates] Tolu Koula and Saaby [Jason Saab] on that side, and I was just going ‘Puhlease, please, run down and get this

There was egg on our face when [Penrith’s] Sunia Turuva went through. They ran past us to score, and they were laughing.”

Given the way it spectacularly backfired, in the Sea Eagles’ round 25 loss to Penrith last year, it may be another three decades before anyone engages in another kicking duel. However, that moment, as much as any of the spectacular ones Manly have produced in the opening two rounds, speaks to the style of football that is now being practiced on the northern beaches.

In the opening game of the season, despite playing in Las Vegas on a field five metres narrower than usual, Manly came from behind to put 36 points on the Rabbitohs. And then, against the highly fancied Roosters in round two, they produced punch and panache in equal measure in front of a packed house at Brookvale.

“One of the lessons I’ve learnt as a coach is you don’t just copy and paste from where I’ve been before,” says Manly mentor Anthony Seibold, who won the Dally M coach of the year award with the Rabbitohs in 2018.

“I reckon I probably did that in South Sydney. We played some of the best attacking footy there in 2018 for a long time, scored the most points that year, played a really entertaining style of footy. I tried to take that to Brisbane.

“One of the learnings is what suited South Sydney and the way that we wanted to play, it didn’t suit Brisbane. You’ve got to cater for your players.

“We’re trying to come up with a way of playing footy that suits this group.”

Seibold has at his disposal one of the fastest NRL back lines assembled in recent times. Jason Saab, Tom Trbojevic, Koula and Garrick have pace to burn, while new recruits Luke Brooks and Jaxson Paulo are also fleet of foot.

Brooks, unburdened by the organisational pressures that weighed so heavily on his shoulders at Wests Tigers, has a left-foot kick that complements the radar right foot of halves partner Daly Cherry-Evans. Nobody kicked more 40-20s out of dummy half than the underrated Lachlan Croker last year, who is part of a formidable pack that includes Haumole Olakau’atu, Josh Aloiai, Jake and Ben Trbojevic, Taniela Paseka, Nathan Brown and the returning Matt Lodge.

At some point, Seibold will throw the enigmatic Josh Schuster, a potential X-factor, into the mix. The coach’s challenge is to play an attractive style of football that brings all of those weapons together.

We saw the first glimpse of it on that August night at 4 Pines Park when Garrick, on the first tackle, decided to put the boot to ball. Missing five key players, Seibold realised his team couldn’t win an arm wrestle against the defending premiers. Instead, they decided to play an attacking, disruptive style, which paid early dividends.

We needed to think outside the square,” Seibold says. “And we did. We tried some things and some worked and some didn’t, but that was OK.

“We pushed them really hard. Talking to [Panthers coach] Ivan Cleary after the game, he said at half-time they had to adapt their game.

Luke Brooks and the Sea Eagles celebrate a try and victory in Las Vegas.

Luke Brooks and the Sea Eagles celebrate a try and victory in Las Vegas.CREDIT: NRL PHOTOS

“One of the things I learnt from that night was that the really good teams, the champion teams like Penrith, are able to go to a plan B.

“If we want to be a team that breaks that cluster – teams five to 14 are all pretty close – developing a plan B is important. They were able to go to plan B and get the job done.
I thought it was a brilliant lesson for us as a coaching group and a brilliant lesson for us as a team.”

Those lessons have been heeded. The result has been an exciting, flamboyant style of football that has the potential to shake up the NRL. It has been made possible by the hard work done by the men in the middle and the connection the team has been fostering off the field.

“One of the lessons I’ve learnt as a coach is you don’t just copy and paste from where I’ve been before.”
Manly coach Anthony Seibold
At the start of the pre-season, every Sea Eagle was placed into a “duty of care” cluster. Players would be split into groups, sometimes alongside teammates they wouldn’t normally socialise with, and tasked with arranging bonding exercises.

Some of the outings to date include 10-pin bowling, rounds of pitch-and-putt at Shortees at Terrey Hills, communal swim sessions in the surf or just a chat over lattes.

I think it’s great, especially for some guys who are a bit shy or whatever,” Jake Trbojevic says.

“You meet up once a week or whenever there’s time in the schedule. You get to catch up with different people and get to know each other better. A staff member also goes, so you get to know them better. It’s really good.”

It’s all part of indoctrinating the squad into “The Manly Way”, the culture and legacy the club wants to honour and build on. It requires new recruits to participate in a brutal two-day camp that pushes them to their mental and physical limits. Over 33 hours, 16 new and emerging players had to make the 50km trek from Brookvale to Bondi Beach and back, with a series of challenges and penalties along the way.

To make sure they were literally rowing in the same direction, each member was given an oar and told they couldn’t be more than a paddle’s length from their teammate at any time. Upon returning to their home ground, they took part in a series of torturous tests, including touching the top of the stadium roof after a ladder climb. Just when they thought they were done, they were isolated and placed on checkpoints along the army barracks at North Head, where they were told to keep a vigil in the darkness.

What we did was pretty hectic,” says Corey Waddell, who returned to the club this year after a stint at the Bulldogs

“Basically, they wanted us to all work together. It was about digging deep and finding what it means to be a Manly player. It was about hard work and communication, the things we needed to stick together. It brought us closer together.

“Us new recruits took a lot out of it, I got a lot of leadership attributes out of it because I was one of the older guys. It was about pushing deep, we went to a pretty dark place.”

The Sea Eagles feel they are approaching a new dawn. Having been involved in a forgettable moment, Garrick started the season with the unforgettable variety. After scoring at Allegiant Stadium, just weeks after the venue hosted the Super Bowl, Garrick channelled legendary NFL tight end Rob Gronkowski with a “Gronk Spike” post-try celebration.

It’s pretty cool to have the opportunity to do it on that stage,” Garrick says.

If the Sea Eagles are able to add another big scalp to their list, arch-rivals Parramatta on Sunday, it will raise hopes of even more memorable moments in the future.

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