Five and a kick: Manly hates you, but should you love them? And are Ricky’s Raiders fun now too?


The Manly Sea Eagles are a loveable bunch, which is why they famously don’t have to carry banners proclaiming how much they don’t like everyone else.

It’s not quite Millwall – “no-one likes us, we don’t care” – and indeed, South London real estate is a lot more expensive than it was in the pomp of 1980s football hooliganism but still has a long way to go to match the bonanza on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

Time was, hating on the Sea Eagles was de rigeur for every other club, but the 2024 edition might be that most unusual of things: a likeable Manly team.

That is said with the full disclosure that your columnist is a noted Manly supporter, but the view from an eyrie high above the Corso is currently rosy and, strangely for everyone else, it’s not just surfers and shoeless shoppers feeling the glow.

Manly are currently winning a lot of friends in the world of rugby league.

That might be because nobody thinks they’ll win anything – yet, at least – and it’s been long enough between drinks that the hatred for the rich has moved south, to the Roosters, and for the tall poppies, to the West and the Panthers.

Manly defeated Penrith on Saturday teatime in the sort of game that neutrals love.

The underdogs won and did so in style, not by attrition but by attack. They did so in a way that celebrated their captain, Daly Cherry-Evans, on a night where he became their most capped player, completed an almost 360 degree arc from hate figure to well-loved veteran.

There were great performances from Tom Trbojevic, who has been injured enough that people only feel sympathy and good will these days, and from Luke Brooks, who has transitioned from Wests Tigers punching bag to loveable redemption story.

Hell, even Nathan Brown was getting love for his kamikaze kick-off returns.

On the field, there’s few teams better to watch for fans of attacking footy than Anthony Seibold’s side.

They were laughed when they briefly brought back the kicking duel, but are fully committed to the bit these days and, when it works, they’ve shown it can upset the very best.

It’ll take a while before the Sea Eagles get close to the love that the Warriors – who they face next weekend – currently have as everyone’s second favourite team, but if they keep up this arc, don’t back against it. Manly loves you too.

Marshall-King ???? Bromwich#NRLDolphinsTigers

— NRL (@NRL) April 6, 2024

Don’t get ahead of yourself, Queensland

Five weeks in seems early to look at the ladder, but it currently looks quite rosy if you’re from Queensland.

Alright, not if you’re from the Gold Coast – and more on them later – but the Sunshine State currently occupies the top two spots, through the Dolphins and Cowboys, and the third, if you’re the type that still claims the Storm as an adjunct of Queensland.

The Broncos are down in 11th, but have a bucketload of caveats.

Brisbane have played the Panthers, Roosters, Souths, Cowboys and Storm, mostly shorn of two of their three best players and with the third, Adam Reynolds, held together by spit and good intentions.

Their 2-3 record through five weeks is probably good when you factor in who they’ve played and where they’ve been.

It’s not something you can say about the other two. The Phins, for the second year running, have enjoyed a rails run to start with an early bye plus engagements with the Tigers, Titans and Dragons.

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Their only loss was in North Queensland, who themselves have faced the Titans, Dragons and Dolphins, fluked a win over Newcastle and lost to Brisbane.

The issue with Redcliffe has always been about depth, and thanks to injuries to Herbie Farnworth, Tom Flegler and Felise Kaufusi, we’re about to see that seriously tested.

The thing with the Cowboys appears to be defence, as they’ve managed to score the most points but also concede the fourth most, which even accounting for some teams having a game fewer, is not a great indicator for when they face better opposition.

With Parra and the Sharks away – they lost both games in Sydney last year – then the Panthers, we’ll learn a lot more about them soon enough.

Timiko puts the icing on the cake for the Raiders ????

???? Watch #NRLRaidersEels on ch.502 or stream on Kayo:

— Fox League (@FOXNRL) April 7, 2024

Are Canberra good now?

The Raiders are untippable agents of chaos, just as liable to blow up as blow someone out.

Prior to this year, they were also the worst good team to watch, and the second worst team to watch in general. Their meetings with the Dragons could be shown in torture chambers.

They’ve never going to be warm and cuddly, but in 2024, they might be fun.

This is a side that now attacks, whereas previously they bumbled into position, wasted plays and then chucked the ball to Jamal Fogarty for a kick.

They’ve realised that getting the ball to Matt Timoko is a good idea, and that Xavier Savage is really fast, and that you can and should pass the ball more than once before tackle four.

This is all a bit facetious, but it does seem that the shackles have been lifted just a touch in the capital, and it’s a lot more enjoyable as.a result.

Ricky Stuart has lasted so long because, as much as he comes across as stubborn, he’s actually very malleable and willing to listen to those that he employs.

With Michael Maguire on staff, the defensive intensity was the focus and, looking at their results, you might say rightfully so.

This time around, things are different and thus the team is different. For neutrals, it’s definitely changed for the better.

Silky from the Storm! ????#NRLStormBroncos

— NRL (@NRL) April 4, 2024

Storm brewing

Melbourne have bumbled along to another impressive start, gaining their best players back in the process, and sit in their usual ominous position of third having already defeat the other three of last year’s top four.

The defence is excellent, the resilience is still there and the star power is returning in a big way. It’s worryingly, threateningly competent all round.

It’s almost too competent for Craig Bellamy. Few are better than him at building a team for September, not April, and he’ll be messaging throughout this coming month about the importance of continuing to build.

He’s got plenty of weapons up his sleeve yet to come, too.

Nelson Asofa-Solomona was running around getting suspended in NSW Cup at the weekend for North Sydney, so will get a few more weeks to build fitness, and the boy wonder Sua Faalogo hasn’t been seen anywhere yet.

That’s because he hasn’t been needed, as Ryan Papenhuyzen has been fit and firing, and NAS is yet to be missed with first Joe Chan, then Shawn Blore looking like superb additions to the squad.

It’s a great place to be for Melbourne – and still, nobody is talking about them.

Hughes gets his first NRL try ???? #NRLBulldogsRoosters

— NRL (@NRL) April 5, 2024

Canterbury get rewarded

Watching Cameron Ciraldo’s pressers this year has been a strange business. In his side’s three defeats, he’s been pretty upbeat, whereas in winning, it’s not always been rosy.

Losses at Parramatta and Souths were to be expected – even though neither are setting the heather alight – and even acceptable given the dig on display from his side.

The defeat at Cronulla was a kick in the teeth, mostly because they should have been playing 12 men for over an hour after Briton Nikora somehow escaped being sent off for a nasty high shot midway through the first half.

It’s with that context that we should see Friday night’s win. Canterbury were the better team long before Dom Young was walked, and they finally got the break that their effort has deserved.

After the Souths defeat, Ciraldo mentioned that his side would have lost it by far more a year ago, and he was right to do so. They would have, and this team has grown a lot since then.

There are still plenty of teething problems, not least that their best 7 is stuck in reserve grade while Drew Hutchison, the perfect bench 14, is masquerading as a halfback, but the point of this year had to be to make the side more competitive defensively, force more tight games and use that as a springboard.

All the attacking stuff can come. Mick Potter’s side scored a shedload of points but conceded even more, and year one Ciraldo kept the bad defence while failing to maintain that offense.

When you play with the enthusiasm and unity that they did on Friday, good things come your way eventually. That’s what the Bulldogs have to look at.

Date with Des-tiny

The Titans are an absolute rabble, that much is clear, and Des Hasler doesn’t seem to be having any effect at all in turning that around.

They’ve now conceded 28 or more in their last nine games, split across two seasons, which isn’t all Hasler’s fault but is his cross to bear.

The constant throughout the worst of this Titans era has been the edge defence, which has never improved and keeps getting picked.

Brian Kelly has played 103 games for the club across six seasons and remains among the worst defensive centres in the game and worth just line breaks against a game at the moment, while Beau Fermor – nine line break concessions in four games – is even worse.

Most line breaks come around the centre position, and the Titans continue to pick guys who can’t defend in the centres time and again.

Now, they’ve added AJ Brimson, a career fullback, with the obvious issues that come with sticking a guy who does his best work in a position that requires very little tackling to the one where every attack targets.

Des is a good coach with a lot of experience, so he’ll know the size of the task. At 0-4, even winning a single game is a challenge at the moment, and he’ll be up against it to get even that far.

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