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2002 Season - The Sea Eagle Rises from the Ashes

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With the financial demise of the Northern Eagles Joint Venture all player contracts for the 2002 season were void and Joint Venture contracted players were free agents. Many left for greener pastures and Manly was left to build a team from scratch with a skimpy budget and few players left on the market.

The NRL licence reverted back to Manly, but because of merchandising contracts, the NRL insisted that the Manly run club be officially known as the "Northern Eagles" in 2002. Nevertheless, the "Northern Eagles" tag was played down and the team was marketed simply as the "Eagles". By the end of the year reality had come to the fore and everyone, except the most pedantic of the NRL "suits" was calling the team "Manly".

At the beginning of the season, the future name, colours and home ground of the club was not certain - a recipe for disaster in trying to attract fans. The official line was that Manly's long term viability depended on expansion to the Central Coast and the club could not financially survive by playing all it's home games at Brookvale.

On 10 December 2001 the Football Club held an information night at which the club was frank in informimg the fans who attended about the financial difficulties faced by the Club. The Eagles would be operating on a budget of $8.6 million in 2002 which put them in the bottom three clubs in terms of funds available with South Sydney and the New Zealand Warriors. (The Warriors operate on a low budget but rely heavily on volunteers which helps keeps their costs down). The objectives for 2002 were accordingly modest with the main objective being financial survival by finishing the year in the black. The Eagles financial viability was to depend on getting a major sponsorship and average home crowds of around 15,000.

The objective on the field was simply to be competitive in matches and avoid the wooden spoon. If the Eagles were to win enough matches to make the final eight that would be a considered an unexpected bonus. Most commentators tipped the Eagles to run last and they were hot favourites for the wooden spoon on SportsTab.

This scenario was hardly the ideal preparation for the new season, but the Eagles managed to cobble together a respectable squad of players. From within, Brendon Reeves, John Hopoate and Steve Menzies showed their loyalty by signing early and Menzies, who declined lucrative offers from other clubs, was appointed club captain. Players picked up from other clubs included Nathan Long, Jason Ferris, Luke Williamson, Mark Shipway, David Westley, Wade Forrester and Mal Kaufusi. Some impressive young players came up through the ranks including Luke Dorn, Chad Randall, Anthony Watmough, Gary Winter and Grant Wooden. [Players stats | Team Photo].

Early trial form was promising. On a stormy February evening at Gosford the Eagles were narrowly beaten by Parramatta 22-18. It was at that match that the original Manly Eagle Rockers met at a match for the first time.

The Eagles then played eventual premiers the Roosters in the Country Carnival match at Tamworth. The Eagles led 12 -10 at half time but were behind 14 -12 before a frantic last five minutes. The Eagles hit the front with a converted try with five minutes remaining before the Roosters hit back to lead 20 -18 two minutes later. Captain Steven Menzies scored in the final minute to snatch a morale boosting 22-20 win.

The first match of the season proper was the local derby against Newcastle at Gosford. Played at the 5.30 Saturday graveyard timeslot, a very disappointing crowd of just over 8,000 turned up. It was the beginning of the end for the Central Coast experiment. The Eagles lost against the strong Newcastle side 38-12. [Match Report] . After a bye in Round 2, things were looking desperate when the Eagles crashed to Souths 44-20 [Match Report] but things picked up in round 4 with a rousing 28-22 win over the Roosters at the first Brookvale match of the season. The crowd of over 12,000 helped the growing call for a permanent move back to Brookvale Oval.[Match Report]


Manly Eagle Rockers at Brookvale v Roosters 7 April 2002

But the Brookie high was short-lived when the Eagles crashed to the Warriors 68-10 in Auckland, a performance that drew a public apology from Captain Steve Menzies. [Match Report].

The Eagles bounced back the following week with a 'near faultless' display against Canberra at Gosford. The Eagles breezed to a 36-0 lead midway through the second half before relaxing to finish with a 36-12 win. The highlight of the match was a length of the field try by young prop Jason King. King, who ran straight through the Raiders defence from a kick-off to put Steve Menzies in the clear. He then backed up his captain for sixty metres to score a brilliant prop’s try. [Match Report].

 

The uppers and downers continued with a disappointing 34-16 loss to the Tigers at Leichardt [Match Report] followed by an exciting 22-18 win over St George at Brookvale. Right on full time Menzies made a desperate last second tackle to dislodge the ball from Dragons winger Matt Cooper as he crossed the line to ensure a Manly victory before a happy and vocal crowd of almost 12,000. The Eagles paid dearly for the victory with gutsy half and goalkicker Jason Ferris receiving a broken forearm in the second half. [Match Report] It was back to struggle street with consecutive losses to the Broncos, Bulldogs and Raiders before blasting the Tigers off the paddock in the first half of the round 13 match at Brookvale. It was a vital win that put the Eagles back into the top eight. [Match Report] Unfortunately, the Eagles could not string two wins together or win away from home as they crashed to the Roosters at Aussie Stadium 18-45 on June 16.

 

While fans did not realise it at the time, off the field the situation was desperate. With no major sponsor and ever dwindling crowds at Northpower stadium, financially the club was on its knees. With creditors awaiting payments and little cash in the bank, the club was within 72 hours of closing down forever. In a momentous week for the Manly football club, two huge developments occurred. First, on June 19, chief executive Ian Thomson brokered a $6 million sponsorship deal with local developer Max Delmege over lunch at D'Amici's, Mona Vale. Second, the bizzare behaviour of John Singleton was brought to an end. Singleton, who controls Northpower Stadium, had stated that, in the upcoming match against Melbourne, he had hoped to put the Eagles in The Guinness Book of World Records for the lowest crowd for a first-class league game by buying tickets back off Central Coast fans. On June 24 a deal was done with "Singo". The Eagles had played their last match at Northpower, and to the delight of traditional Manly fans, all remaining home games in 2002 would be played at Brookvale.

Meanwhile, back on the paddock, the Eagles at last scored an away win over Penrith at Penrith Park. The Eagles took control of the match early in the second half when centre Ben MacDougall scored a superb 60 metre solo try to give the Eagles a 28-8 lead. The Panthers piled on three tries to narrow the gap to four points with 10 minutes remaining. But in an exciting finish the Eagles hung on with grim defence to win 28-24.[Match Report]

The next match against Melbourne Storm was the first home game to be rescheduled from Gosford to Brookvale. That made it an historical match - Manly was truly home! The Manly Eagle Rockers symbolically stormed the Brookie Hill to reclaim the sacred ground by raising the flag on top. In the match Melbourne led 16-8 at the break but after some Sharp words at half time and twenty-eight unanswered points later the Eagles had blown the Storm away. [Match Report].

After losing to the high flying, over-capped, Bulldogs at the Showground, the Eagles recorded their second away win of the season with an unspectacular but solid 28-12 win over the Cowboys in Townsville. [Match Report]

Expectations were high at the next home match against the Sharks at Brookvale. With Marcia Hines' video shoot of the reworked Eagle Rock and Wendy Harmer on the Hill with the Rockers it was a big day for Eagles fans. The big crowd was not disappointed as the Eagles raced to an 18-0 half time lead. But the second half was all the Sharks as they piled on the points for a 46-24 win.[Match Report]

The Eagles final eight prospects took another battering in the next match with a shock 30-18 loss to the Cowboys at Brookvale. But the real Manly turned up for the next two games with wins over Parramatta 19-10 at Brookvale .[Match Report] and a last gasp 20-18 win over St George at Aussie Stadium to put the Eagles back in the top eight. [Match Report]

With away losses to the Knights and the Eels, the Eagles had to win their last two matches against the Warriors and the Panthers, both at Brookvale, to make the eight. A magnificent 18-16 win against the Warriors [Match Report] seemingly had all but assured a final eight spot with only the Panthers at Brookvale to play. But it was not to be as the Eagles inexplicably crumbled 68-28 at home to lowly Penrith. It was hard to fathom. In the run home the Eagles had knocked over top eight sides Parramatta, St George and the Warriors only to dash their finals hopes by losing home games to 'cellar dwellers' the Cowboys and the Panthers. Oh well that's footy!


White Knight - Max Delmege


Rockers reclaim the Brookie Hill

2002 was not a season of rebuilding but a year of rebirth. After the collapse of the Northern Eagles joint venture and the near financial demise of Manly, to have survived financially was a triumph in itself. Despite the occasional embarrassing thrashing, the on field performances were above expectations in the circumstances. The team surprised the experts by almost making the playoffs and knocking over some big guns in the process. But even better, from 1 November 2002 Manly is officially back playing as the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles, wearing maroon and white and playing all home games at Brookvale Oval. So GET READY league fans - the team you love to hate is Back, and we love it.

2002 was also a year of adversity that brought out the best in officials, players and fans. New groups were formed that saved the club, the Eagle Angels, the Volleys and the internet originating Manly Eagle Rockers. It was a year when new and lasting friendships were formed. All Manly fans should be grateful for the hard work put in by the Eagles staff headed by CEO Ian Thomson and Zorba. And, of course special thanks go to Max Delmege, a white knight whose generous sponsorship saved the club.

2002 Season Awards:

NRL Best and Fairest: Steve Menzies
NRL Players Player: John Hopoate
Doug Daley Clubman of the Year: Steve Menzies
Rookie of the Year: Jason King
Community Service Award: Tony Jensen
1st Division Best & fairest: Shayne Dunley
1st Division Players Player: Alex Moore
Jersey Flegg Best & Fairest: Phil Moorwood
Thomas Keneally Scholarship: Phil Moorwood
Thomas O'Connell Award: Nathan Lavers