Last year, despite the overachieved status, was a definite improvement and a step in the right direction for the Manly club. Our defence in the first month or so of 2005 was a big development on what had been seen in the previous seasons and some strong early wins gave supporters hopes of a dominant forward pack and strong, resilient defence. The first 10 weeks even gave false hopes of a big impact in the semis. Sadly injuries, lack of depth and a loss of form plus deficiencies in the centres and halves led to a significant slump and saw us limp into the finals, to ultimately make little impact on the post-season. What concerned me a number of times was the media talking up of Manly, both around Rep time (pick 8 of us), around the time we played Brisbane (we are the real thing) and some of the nonsense involving Hoppa, prior to his senseless (but predictable) demise. We proved we could talk it up but consistently doing it on the paddock seemed beyond us. It also seemed as if certain deficiencies were not really managed, the five-eighth situation being the main evidence of this. 2006 is a fresh season and the big question is - Can Manly move forward again from being fringe contenders to become the REAL DEAL? A few things give me hope: 1. Every team that has been 8th in the McIntyre system (bar one - and that is Canberra in 2004) has gone on to improve in subsequent seasons. 2. Manly has recruited well in capturing a dominant half (Orford) and a top line centre in Bell. Both positions have been Achilles' heels for the Eagles in the past few years. 3. Players such as Anthony Watmough and Brett Stewart continue to improve and will make even more significant contributions given an injury free run. 4. The influence of Ben Kennedy and Steve Menzies, plus the taste of semi-final football has given our team some confidence that they can mix it with the best. 5. We played so well in the first few weeks of 2005 and showed that we do have what it takes. 6. None of the players we have seen leave the club are huge losses. 7. Administratively we seem to be on the improve and the management of the club and long term sustainability seem to be effectively managed. In making predictions for 2006 I wish to be very cautious as a number of things need to be addressed before I can show any confidence in our great club to continue to climb out of the pit in which we have found ourselves. * We need to develop a consistent defence that will stand up to pressure. We still conceded too many points in the second half of the 2005. * A dominant Forward rotation is essential. Our front-row must stand up and support Kennedy, Menzies and Watmough, both in defence in the metres game. (We were the lowest metre earners of any NRL club last year and if this can't be turned around I fear for our season.) King, Kite and the other forwards must stand up and be counted in order that Orford and co have the room to 'strut their stuff!' * Our away form must improve. Our record in the past few seasons has been abysmal. * We must start to show some form in night games as we have many of them in 2006. We need to demonstrate the same confidence and commitment shown on Sunday afternoons at Brookvale if we are going to be up there with the big boys. Our survival also depends on TV games, many which are on Friday nights. * We need to see the injection of some younger players - people like Matt Ballin, George Rose, Kain Cleal, Glenn Stewart, Adam Cuthbertson etc need to be introduced to the big time and start to make an impact. The emergence of a new star or two is also highly desirable - there are some with big wraps that will hopefully step up. * The five-eighth position is a bit of a riddle. Witt had some very good games in 2005 but lost confidence in defence and lost the confidence of his coach. Monaghan may wish to play there and some younger players may put their hands up. Des Hasler must address this matter as Steve Menzies at pivot will not solve the matter. * We need a top-notch centre to support Bell. The emergence of Steve Matai gave some hope last year but with Ashley Alberts being regarded as one of the best prospects in the country several years ago and rated by none less than Steve Renouf, it is hoped that an injury free run will see him realise his great potential. * The captaincy issue needs to be positively managed. We need a resilient on-field leader. The negative 'whif ' of the Monaghan leadership era may lead to a new captain in 2006. * It is hoped that a top winger will emerge in order that we defend strongly on the flanks and finish movements effectively. In considering all these matters and there are surely more, it is obvious that the form and impact of Orford is going to be pivotal and that a lot of our hopes for 2006 will rest on his shoulders. Injury free runs for our players, good medical treatment and a commitment to fitness and work ethic will be balanced by some luck plus discipline in keeping 'onside' with referees. The development of confidence and experience in our coach, the continued recruitment and success of our junior teams may also be other planks that will contribute to a season of success in 2006. To realistically consider where we might end up is very difficult as the season ahead poses many questions. I can't see Manly as a premiership contender, though I think realistically we should be aiming to be a top 4 side. The Roosters, Panthers and Dogs will be back with a vengeance in 2006 and the Cowboys, Broncos, Dragons and Eels have unfinished business. The Tigers look a lot stronger and the Sharks have recruited well. Go Manly - we will be riding with you all the way!!!! Bring on March!!!