Manly's surge from 15th in 2018 up to sixth last year was as surprising as their retreat to 13th this year.
It started brightly enough as the squad sat in the top half of the draw as late as round 11 but they never really recovered from the long-term hamstring injury suffered by star fullback Tom Trbojevic.
They also had to do without regular five-eighth Dylan Walker for much of the season but across the board their injury dramas weren't as bad as what they overcame the year before, or what some other clubs held off in 2020.
From round 11 they won just one further game all season with their finals hopes all but gone by round 16.
Silver linings were few and far between on the northern beaches in 2020 but the emergence of Taniela Paseka as a serious force in the middle was certainly one, while debutants Josh Schuster and Haumole Olakau'atu will be ones to watch moving forward.
Home and Away record
While Manly's away record could have been better, their struggles to win at one-time fortress Lottoland proved particularly costly. Their 3-7 home record looks bad enough but two of those home wins were at Central Coast Stadium during the COVID-19 venue restrictions, leaving them with six losses and just one win (against the Eels) in their own backyard.
From the narrow loss to the Knights in the rain to the late capitulation against Wests Tigers and the thumping by the late-surging Titans, Lottoland held few happy memories for the Manly faithful this year.
Their away record was slightly better, though arguably slightly skewed by beating good teams at neutral grounds such as the win over the Roosters at Leichhardt and the win over Canberra at Campbelltown.
They were unlucky in close losses to the Eels at Bankwest and Knights at McDonald Jones but soundly beaten by Souths at ANZ, the Storm on the Sunshine Coast and the Dragons at Kogarah.
Run metres differential
Getting outrun by almost 200 metres per game is a sure-fire recipe to lose more games than you win. The yardage game cost the Sea Eagles dearly in 2020.
Their starts to sets struggled badly; only wooden spooners Brisbane earned less metres from their back three (321 metres per game) than Manly (332 metres per game). Compare that to top teams like the Panthers and Roosters who each earned over 500 metres per game from their back three and Manly started sets on the back foot far too often.
Only Addin Fonua-Blake (167 metres per game) averaged over 150 while Tom Trbojevic (seven games at 146 per game) was the only other man to average better than 130.
Try scoring – game time
Manly's tries were fairly evenly spread throughout the quarters – the problem is there just weren't enough of them.
They were slightly better at finding the line in the first and last quarters of games while drilling down further, the first 10 minutes of games was their equal-best 10-minute bracket with 11 tries for the season.
That starting 10-minute period was consistently good for the Sea Eagles, who conceded just five tries in that game period. However, they were outscored by 14 tries to seven in the next 10 minutes and by 13 to six in the third 10-minute bracket to surrender those early advantages.
Tries conceded – game time
The second 20 minutes of each half, and in particular the final 10 minutes of each half, presented a major threat to the Manly defensive line in 2020. They let in 28 tries from the 20th to 40th minutes and 25 in the final 20 minutes of games.
In both instances, it was the final 10 in particular that proved costly with their 16 tries in the final 10 minutes of matches their worst 10-minute bracket both for total tries conceded and for try differential, scoring just seven of their own for the season in the final 10 minutes of matches.
Tries scored from six-agains
The new six-again rule is one area Manly were able to cash in on to some extent, proving the third-best side at scoring in the set after earning a ruck infringement call.
Overall they nabbed 16 tries in the set after earning a ruck infringement, with only the Sharks (20) and Rabbitohs (19) doing better, with both of those sides finishing in the top eight and among the best-attacking sides of 2020.
The Sea Eagles were not only good at scoring from six-agains, they were also among the best teams when it came to avoiding being penalised for them, conceding just 89 for the season – the third-best club after the Eels (77) and Dragons (79).
Metres gained from offloads
Prop Martin Taupau was the NRL's third most prolific offloader in 2020 with 35, trailing only David Klemmer (45) and Junior Paulo (49), gaining nearly 200 extra metres across the season.
Curtis Sironen wasn't far behind, gaining almost 180 metres from his 26 offloads while Danny Levi and Daly Cherry-Evans each also gained over 100 metres from offloads.
First choice kicker Reuben Garrick had some struggles off the tee this year; having slotted 65 goals at better than 76 per cent last year he missed 19 of his 60 attempts this year for a less impressive 68 per cent return which saw Manly slump to 12th best for goal-kicking accuracy.
Skipper DCE was pretty handy when needed though; of his 16 shots, 12 went over to leave him with a 75 per cent success rate – one he carried through into a man-of-the-match effort in Origin I.
There could be a call for coach Des Hasler to make next year around who the first-choice should be given DCE's impressive form while there remains a question mark over Garrick's future at the club.
In a year when a majority of clubs used at least 30 players, Manly's 27 was the equal fewest (level with the Eels and Panthers).
While the injury to Trbojevic was a huge blow, Turbo only played 12 matches in 2019 when they made the finals and otherwise manly got off relatively lightly. The long-term injury to Walker disrupted their playmaking plans but there were adequate options in Cade Cust and Lachlan Croker.
Shorter term injuries to the likes of Fonua-Blake, Joel Thompson and Moses Suli were disruptive but other clubs with greater injury concerns were able to cope better than Manly, who shrugged off huge injury concerns last year and make the finals.
Tries from scrums and errors
An interesting anomaly from Manly's season overall was a huge degree of success capitalising after earning a scrum feed but a serious struggle to capitalise on opposition errors in open play.
Despite scoring just the equal ninth-most tries for the season with 67, Manly were outright first for scoring in the set after a scrum, with 22 of their 67 tries coming this way – ahead of the Storm (21) and Souths (20).
However, when it came to scooping up a loose ball from an opposition fumble and attacking, Manly managed just two tries from those possessions all year.
Every other club scored at least six times this way and outside Brisbane and Canterbury, every other side scored at least 10 tries this way.
Manly struggled to control possession in 2020, as attested by their poor showing in terms of run metres gained and conceded listed above. They also averaged just 49 per cent of possession in games across the season as a whole, the fourth-worst rate of any club.
It's not the major reason but a significant contributing factor was their short kicking game, with just 23 repeat sets forced across their 20 games – better only than last-placed Brisbane (19) and trailing far behind the top two sides, Penrith (55) and Parramatta (48).
They could have done far better with a little less weight on their attacking short kicks – the Sea Eagles gave away 16 seven-tackle restarts, the fourth-most of any side.
2020 Form Guide
|1||Storm||Lottoland, Sydney||Lost 4-18|
|2||Roosters||Leichhardt Oval, Sydney||Won 8-9|
|3||Bulldogs||Central Coast Stadium, Central Coast||Won 32-6|
|4||Eels||Bankwest Stadium, Sydney||Lost 19-16|
|5||Broncos||Central Coast Stadium, Central Coast||Won 20-18|
|6||Raiders||Campbelltown Stadium, Sydney||Won 6-14|
|7||Sharks||Central Coast Stadium, Central Coast||Lost 22-40|
|8||Knights||Lottoland, Sydney||Lost 12-14|
|9||Dragons||Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney||Lost 34-4|
|10||Eels||Lottoland, Sydney||Won 22-18|
|11||Cowboys||Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville||Won 12-24|
|12||Panthers||Lottoland, Sydney||Lost 12-42|
|13||Warriors||Lottoland, Sydney||Lost 22-26|
|14||Knights||McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle||Lost 26-24|
|15||Rabbitohs||ANZ Stadium, Sydney||Lost 56-16|
|16||Storm||Sunshine Coast Stadium, Sunshine Coast||Lost 30-6|
|17||Wests Tigers||Lottoland, Sydney||Lost 32-34|
|18||Bulldogs||ANZ Stadium, Sydney||Won 20-32|
|19||Titans||Lottoland, Sydney||Lost 24-42|
|20||Warriors||Central Coast Stadium, Central Coast||Lost 40-28|