From the vault

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Journey Man
The Alternate Review of Season 2004:

Part Three: A "star" is born

Coming off the bye Manly were staring at a seventh straight defeat against a Dragons side that many pundits had as their favourites to win the competition. Des Hasler finally wielded the axe that many fans had been predicting for weeks. The major change was the move of Andrew Walker from full back to five eighth to pave the way for exciting youngster Brett Stewart. Jye Mullane took the drop to make this possible.

The team had used the bye well. NRL stats had Manly at the bottom of the NRL for dominant tackles at nearly half that of some of the league leaders. Manly’s lack of impact in the tackle area also saw them as one of the main transgressors for holding down and offside penalties. It had become obvious that the side needed to muscle up as well as to commit more men to the tackle area. A lot of work went into Manly’s defence over the bye period.

A few other cards began to fall Manly’s way. The City/Country Origin game claimed high profile Dragon Lance Thompson and also left a large contingent of the red and whites sore and sorry. A huge crowd swelled Brookvale Oval to see if Manly could break a long losing streak at home and provide the ultimate celebration for inspirational captain, Steve Menzies’ 250th game in first grade. As the teams ran out the rain was falling, a sign that the Dragons’ potent backline might be slowed on the day.

For the first time in the season the Sea Eagles played a committed and focussed 80 minute game. The forwards muscled up and pulverised their Dragon opposition and when Michael Monaghan kicked a late field goal the Eagles’ first home win of the season was confirmed. The final score line of 21-10 did not provide adequate confirmation of the dominance of the men in maroon and white that day.

That dominance was surprisingly confirmed the following week. Manly were faced with the tough assignment of a trip across the Tasman to face the New Zealand Warriors, one of the NRL’s most bruising teams. For Manly fans this trip will always evoke memories of the shellacking the Northern Eagles team had suffered in 2002, surely the low point of that failed and awful experiment. This time however the Sea Eagles steamed away in the second half to post a memorable 42-20 win and leapfrog over the Warriors on the league table.

With two wins in a row the Sea Eagles were beginning to show the confidence that had been shown in them by Des Hasler during their long losing streak earlier in the season. Hasler had stated at numerous post game press conferences that the Sea Eagles would string together a number of wins once they broke through for their first (discounting the win over the Cowboys).

This two week period also bought the good news of the re-signing of Sam Harris, Anthony Watmough, Glenn Stewart and Brett Stewart to three year contracts as well as Menzies for a further two. However, this bright outlook was tempered when news broke of an injury to halfback Michael Monaghan. Monaghan had been a dominant figure in the two wins and a broken finger, just as he was striking form, was a devastating blow for the club.

The half back jersey was passed to Jye Mullane and so began a calamity of error that had true blue supporters gnashing their teeth and tearing their hair out. Mullane had probably never joined the club to play in the Number seven, and the fact that he was thrust into the position betrayed the concerning lack of depth in key positions for the Eagles. However, the next few weeks must surely have been the nadir of one of the game’s better known names.

Mullane’s initial comedy of error happened to coincide with Manly’s first outing on free to air television as they took on the Cronulla Sharks at Brookvale. A national audience watched a see-sawing game in which Mullane’s deficiencies at half back were glaringly exposed as he let in three tries out wide and notably knocked on a pass from Hopoate after a long break with the try line wide open.

If Mullane’s day was difficult there was no doubt that another star had been born on the Northern beaches. Brett Stewart raced in for three stunning tries, including one where he made on of the game’s best Centres, Nigel Vagana, look positively pedestrian as he raced past him to the line. Manly sparkling attack was not sufficient to overcome their woeful defense as the Sharks snuck home 30-28 in a high scoring contest.

Next the Sea Eagles made the trip down the Hume Highway to take on the Canberra Raiders in the tundra of Canberra Stadium. It would prove to be Manly’s first true lacklustre performance for 2004. Previous losses had at least been tempered by some periods of competitiveness. Against Canberra the wheels fell off. Whilst in touch with their opposition at half time, the Eagles capitulated in the second half to concede an avalanche of tries.

Embarrassingly one try arose from a shocking blunder from Menzies on his own try line, a looping intercept to Joel Monaghan. A second blunder became famously known as “the chip kick”, a Mullane gaff that was dissected and lampooned endlessly on Manly internet forums for the next week. Manly lost 48-22 and the many fans from the Northern Beaches that had made the trip and braved the cold (some of them bare- chested) faced a long trip home, crying into their beers.

In Round Twelve the defending Premiers ventured to Brookvale Oval to take what many considered to be a gift two points. However, they took the field weakened by the absence of representative stars and halves combination Craig Gower and Preston Campbell. Early in the game the ABC commentators mentioned the size difference between the two packs and noted that it would only be a matter of time before the Panthers steamrolled their smaller opposition. However the Eagles forwards dug deep and played for each other in a performance reminiscent of their game against the Dragons.

Luke Williamson played one of his best games in first grade to score two tries. The Panthers attack meanwhile stuttered as an out of position Amos Roberts failed to find the spark required to ignite their high scoring backline. Manly shut the Panthers out of the game and took a famous 20-12 victory. The only downside for the jubilant Brookvale faithful was the continuing capers from Mullane. This time the bag of tricks included a ball kicked high into the Southern Stand and a number of balls passed over the sideline with the Eagles hot on attack. Little surprise then that news of a Mullane injury later in the week was welcomed with relief by some Manly fans, igniting a vigorous debate on how far the threads of loyalty to club and player should be spun.

Mullane or no Mullane, little could have saved the Eagles from the diabolical embarrassment that awaited them in the next month. It began with an almighty 52-12 shellacking at the hands of a Parramatta Eels side that were far from the dominant force they were three years ago. The embarrassment at Parramatta Stadium was made worse when Hopate was cited for abusing a match official and handed a hefty nine match suspension.

Bad went to worse when Manly fell at home to Wooden spoon favourites South Sydney. Lee Hookey ran riot out wide as the Rabbitohs burst out of the blocks to a large lead that Manly were never able to overhaul. With some grumbling about refereeing decisions Manly were consigned to the bottom of the table with a 34-30 loss. The reality is that there’s little point on making excuses about a loss at home to the league’s weakest team. It was simply unacceptable and fans hoped that the message would be delivered to the players in no uncertain terms.

It was. Club boss Paul Cummings tore into the rooms at full time to give the players a spray and remind them that most of them were playing for contracts at the end of the season. It seemed to have little effect. Manly travelled to Newcastle and turned in another diabolical second half performance to be soundly thrashed 56-12.

Channel Nine made their last visit to Brookvale Oval to face a depleted Bulldogs side. Most of the Bulldogs pack were resting up for that week’s Origin game but this was more than made up for by Andrew Ryan, angry at his omission from the Blues side. Three times he rolled through pathetic sea Eagles defence to make an emphatic statement to selectors. The Bulldogs loped home to win 50-32. Bulldog’s coach Steve Folkes bemoaned a lacklustre performance from his side and accused them of taking Manly too easy. One hates to think what would have happened had they turned up to play.

The grim month on the field was slightly relieved by positive off field news. Club members had made the historic decision to privatise the club in late May. This allowed sponsor and benefactor Max Delmege to buy a 50% share in the club. The resultant cash injection meant that the club could open its purse strings for the first time in many a year.

Throughout June Manly spoke with any player given permission to negotiate. Ben Kennedy was the first big name to commit to the club after a paltry offer from a Knights side more intent on securing Andrew Johns. His signing was welcomed as it would bring a wealth of experience and professionalism from one of the best recent forwards in the game.

Those worried about Kennedy’s age were placated by the next big signing. After a long tug of war with the Canberra Raiders the Eagles secured Brent Kite from the Dragons for four years. One of the best up and coming players in the game, Kite’s size and mobility had seen him break into the Origin arena. At 22 he is yet to hit his peak and looms as the most exciting addition to Manly ranks since Ian Roberts joined the club in 1990.

With two big names on the books before the expiration of the June 30 anti tampering deadline the Northern Beaches was agog with speculation about who would follow in July. When Big League named Manly as the likely biggest movers in the market the scene was set for a signing spree designed to bring Manly back to the glory days. As the clock ticked over at midnight on the first of July, fans held their breath.

Next Review: Signs of Revival
Classic commentary. To the point, well written and evoking of great memories.

It was this saga that saw the birth of this 'rebel' website (as a certain character has taken to calling us - as we are not true supporters!!!)
Team P W L PD Pts
10 9 1 124 20
10 8 2 81 18
10 7 3 70 16
10 7 3 69 16
11 7 4 59 14
10 6 4 -10 14
11 6 5 107 12
11 6 5 -9 12
10 5 5 -56 12
11 5 5 30 11
10 4 6 15 10
11 5 6 -12 10
11 4 6 -7 9
10 3 7 -103 8
10 2 8 -81 6
10 2 8 -91 6
10 1 9 -186 4
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