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2003 Season - The Shocker we had to Have

2003 Results | 2003 Player Stats

High Hopes

With the acquisition of Solomon Haumono, Kevin McGuinness, Scott Donald, and Ben Walker, combined with players already on the club's books and some promising youngsters coming through, Manly were confident they had a competitive side for 2003 and years to come. The side's permanent return to Brookvale Oval and reverting to the name Manly contributed to an aura of confidence at the beginning of the season.

"We're changing the nature of our footy side," coach Sharp said. "This year is just another step in the process of becoming a good club again. We want to be better than last year and next year we want to be better than this year. It's a gradual process, but it's all a step in the right direction. The club has a great tradition, they love playing at Manly so it will all contribute to the rebirth of the club back into a top-four or top-five side."

The new maroon and white strip also contributed to the feeling that Manly was truly back and the return to glory days was just around the corner.

Poor Preliminary Performances

However, on the fIeld things got off to a slow start. After losing three trials against the Eels, the Cowboys and the Bulldogs, the Sea Eagles also lost the first three competition matches against the Cowboys in Townsville [match report] and the first two home games against the Warriors and the Tigers.

The loss against the lowly Tigers by 38 to 12 was a woeful performance and prompted captain Steve Menzies to apologise to the fans and comment that this was his "darkest day at Brookvale Oval". CEO Ian Thomson was also not impressed by the performance and reportedly launched a tirade of abuse at his players calling them scared and slamming their "disgraceful" performance.

A Win at Last

But a week is a long time in football and the following Sunday, 16 April, Manly had its first win of the season over St George-Illawarra at Wollongong, ironically by the same score they had been beaten the week before 38-12 [match report]. Manly ran in 7 tries but the match is best remembered for the actions of Dragons coach Nathan Brown in slapping the face of his captain.

The Special K Affair

But controversy is never far away at Manly these days and two days later Manly accused Tongan forward Mal Kaufusi of gross disloyalty after he signed a two-year deal with Sydney Roosters. Sea Eagles football manager Peter Peters controversially commented that Kaufusi "should look up loyalty in the Macquarie Dictionary". But Kaufusi and his agent hit back by claiming the Sea Eagles had shown little interest in him since his return to Sydney and had made him a poor offer. The next day, CEO Ian Thomson apologized and gave his blessing to Kaufusi's decision, saying he could not blame the man known as "Special K" for accepting more money than the small incentive-based contract Manly could offer.

Hopoate's Heroics

In better press it was revealed that Manly winger John Hopoate had taken the ball forward for an extraordinary 290 metres against the Dragons, creating an NRL record. Hopoate eclipsed the previous record set by Roosters winger Anthony Minichiello (288 metres) back in the 2001 season. Hopoate was averaging 220 metres each game running 879 metres in the first 4 games of the season.

Into the Top Eight

Manly followed up their win over the Dragons with a last gasp 20 to 14 win over the Storm [match report] before Ben Walker kicked eight goals out of eight attempts in Manly's 28-20 win over the Rabbitohs [match report], both at Brookvale Oval.

These wins put the Sea Eagles back on track and into sixth spot on the table. After three wins on the trot, Manly were far from disgraced in a thrilling one point loss to eventual Minor Premiers Penrith at Penrith Park, with Walker just missing a goal from the sideline on fulltime that would have won the match [match report].

The Sea Eagles suffered a body blow during the week with tough prop Nathan Long out for the season with a recurring shoulder problem requiring a shoulder reconstruction which ensured he was to be sidelined for at least six months.

Manly came crashing back to earth in round 9 with a 40-16 loss to Cronulla at Shark Park, but were buoyed by the selections of Steve Menzies, John Hopoate and Solomon Haumono in the City side to play Country that Friday night at Gosford.

Golden Point

In round 10 Ben Walker scored the first "golden point" in the NRL to clinch a dramatic victory over Parramatta at Brookvale Oval. Walker kicked a penalty goal close to the end of extra time after the scores had been locked at 34-all after 80 minutes, triggering for the first time the extra time rule introduced this season.

Walker had two field goal attempts in extra time and the Eels one before Scott Donald, who scored two tries against his old club, made a break down the wing. The ball was kicked ahead and was picked up by a Parramatta player in an off-side position resulting in a penalty to Manly.

Walker kicked the goal to give the Sea Eagles a famous victory in front of 10,387 ecstatic fans. [
match report]

Tigerish Turnaround

The euphoria of the golden point was short lived when Manly were beaten 31-20 by the Cowboys for the second time this season in front of 7,028 fans at Brookvale Oval. A bye in round 12 was followed by a come-from-behind win over the Tigers at Leichardt in round 13. Manly came from 24-6 behind to win 38-30 with two late tries clinching the victory [match report]. Manly were again behind 24-6 in round 14 against the Bulldogs. There was to be no fairytale comeback win against a classier Canterbury outfit but Manly went down fighting to lose 34-20.

HO HO Hoppa

On June 18, John Hopoate was fined $5000 by the Manly club for secretly playing half a game of fifth grade rugby union. Hopoate, wearing head gear to mask his identity, turned out for the Parramatta rugby club against West Harbour at Granville Park on June 9 and scored the winning try.

Fighting Spirit - Faint Finals Hopes Fading

Manly showed more fighting spirit against the Sharks in round 15 at Brookvale. The Sea Eagles broke an 18 all deadlock running three tries in the last 20 minutes to win 36-18. The win kept Manly's final eight hopes alive but was soured by a serious injury to Ben Walker who was taken to Royal North Shore hospital after being knocked unconscious for seven minutes following an accidental knee in the neck by Cronulla prop Chris Beattie [match report].

Despite Scott Donald's hat-trick of tries, Manly lost its round 16 match to the Dragons at Brookvale 42-28. The Sea Eagles again got off to a bad start, trailing 20-6 in the first half before fighting back to get within striking distance at 24-26. Manly's uphill battle to make the finals became a lot harder when powerhouse winger John Hopoate sustained a broken ankle in the round 17, 27-16 loss to the Eels at Parramatta Stadium. Hopoate would miss the rest of the season, a devastating blow to Manly as he topped the NRL's "most hit-ups/runs" category making 345 metres per game. Manly faced a horror run home meeting top eight teams in all of their last nine games, exacerbated by a growing injury toll. Their top eight hopes were all but gone.

Farcical Finale

Manly were destined to win only one of those last nine matches, a gallant 26-20 win over the Broncos in Brisbane in round 20 [match report]. Unfortunately events on the field deteriorated after that with Manly's defence letting in a total of 205 points in four matches against premiership heavyweights Raiders, Bulldogs, Roosters and Panthers. (In 1996 the Manly team had 191 points scored against them in the entire season!) Manly finished second last in 14th place, averaging a horrendous 33 points against per game. While Manly have finished second last before, it was in the first two years 1947 and 1948 when the fledging Sea Eagles finished 9th in a ten team competition. The previous lowest place was 13th out of 17 teams in 1999.

Crazy Capers

On August 12 it was reported that mobile phone company CRAZY John's had drawn up a bizarre list of plans in a take over bid for the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles. Plans included re-naming Manly as the "Crazy John's Eagles" and re-naming Brookvale Oval as "Crazy John's Coliseum". Fortunately, by the end of the month sanity prevailed the Manly football board had unanimously dismissed any commercial involvement with Crazy John's for the 2004 season.

Faction Fighting - The Final Solution

As bad as it was, the mauling Manly was copping on the football field was nothing compared to the bloodletting in the Boardroom as one official after the other "fell on his sword":

FATTY FLICKED
On June 28 Paul Vautin announced that he would be stepping down as Chairman of the Manly Warringah RL Football Club at the end of the season. This followed an announcement by Manly Leagues Club Chairman Ken Arthurson that the Leagues Club would fund the Football club to the tune of $1 million each season for 3 years in return for 3 spots on the Football Club Board.

SHARPIE SHAFTED
On June 30 coach Peter Sharp announced he would stand down at the end of the season, saying he hoped his replacement would be given a "fair shot". Described by the media as "bloodletting" it was reported that Sharp would have struggled to hold onto his position under the new hierarchy despite Manly Leagues Club supremo Ken Arthurson indicating the coach's future was "in his own hands".

VAUTIN VANISHES

On Bastille Day Paul Vautin quit as a football club board member, claiming he wanted to prevent the embattled Sea Eagles from "further haemorrhaging". Vautin's shock resignation, was effective immediately, meaning one of Manly's most famous players had no further official connection with the club and was free to concentrate fully on the highbrow activities of the Footy Show.

MAGILLA MARCHED
On September 20 the dramatic restructuring of Manly was completed, with chief executive Ian Thomson resigning from his position. Thomson stepped aside for Paul Cummings, executive chairman of Hanimex Australasia, in a move designed to strengthen the relationship between the football club and Manly Leagues Club.

The Leagues Club coup was complete, let us hope that it turns out to be in the best long term interests of the football club. Still it has to be better than a takeover by CrAzy Johns!

The Only Way is Up

Following a season where the highlight of the year was "Sam Murphy's Girl" singing Eagle Rock on the Footy Show, things can only get better. So looking on the positive side, we have a new management team with stronger ties to the Leagues club, ensuring guaranteed funds from that source (if the pokie tax doesn't get us!); we have a generous and committed main sponsor in Delmege Commercial; we have our true identity back; we have a new coaching team headed by Manly stalwart Des Hasler; and, we are putting together a promising squad of mainly young players with an eye to the future.

Key player signings include Andrew Walker, Michael Mohaghan, Ian Donnelly, Daniel Heckenberg, Shane Dunley, Mark Lennon and Dallas Rennie. When combined with current players such as Donald, Hopoate, King, McGuinness, Menzies, Randall, Walker, Watmough and Williamson we have the makings of a very strong team.

But it will take time to bring all this together into an outfit that is a true premiership contender. Long suffering Manly fans must be patient - remember, we won't have Sharpie to kick around any more. But will there be calls for Dessie's head after our first loss next year? I sincerely hope not (if he simply says "sorry"), but wouldn't it be hypercritical not to?