The lure of playing in Las Vegas and the fierce competition for front-row spots is ensuring Toff Sipley is leaving no stone unturned this pre-season in preparation for 2024.
Sipley is already embracing the battle for the middle rotation spots alongside the likes of Taniela Paseka, Josh Aloiai, Matthew Lodge, Jake Trbojevic, Ethan Bullemor, Aaron Woods, and new additions Nathan Brown, Corey Waddell and Aitasi James.
Like his team-mates, Sipley's focus is on making the team for Manly's round one game against South Sydney Rabbitohs in the historic NRL Double Header at Allegiant Stadium on March 2.
“You always want to have a good crack in the pre-season, but there is no doubt the trip to Las Vegas has certainly added more motivation at training,' Sipley said.
“When I went to New York in the off-season, I watched a Giants game. Americans love their sport and they get behind their teams. I’m sure they are going to love watching a game of rugby league where you have no pads, no helmets. Just body on body contact.
“It’s exciting to think our first game is in Vegas. You definitely want to be there and then keep your spot in the team.
“For me, going into any season, I’ve never been the ‘go to’ guy when it comes to who is in. You have guys like Daly Cherry-Evans, and Jake and Tom Trbojevic, who have earned that respect.
“It certainly keeps you accountable…a case of head down, bum up. You have to keep working hard as nothing is ever guaranteed for guys like myself.
“I’ve always had that kind of chip on my shoulder, like I have something to prove. When you look back on last season, I didn’t even play in the first four rounds of the NRL. I was in NSW Cup. I didn’t play well in the trials. I didn’t perform.
“The most valuable lesson I’ve learnt is that it all falls on me. I didn’t put myself in the best position for the pre-season games. It did hurt at the time. I can only blame myself for that.”
Despite the setback, Sipley produced his finest season for Manly in 2023, with his energy and passion seeing him average 117 metres per game, 642 post contact metres, and 44 tackle breaks from 15 matches.
His defence was at an impressive 97% tackle efficiency rate while Sipley also produced his most offloads with 20.
Now 28 and with almost 70 NRL games behind him, Sipley said understanding more about his ‘body composition’ and getting the right advice from experienced campaigners like Cherry-Evans and Tom Trbojevic helped in 2023.
“My hands have been forced in a way because of my age. The metabolism starts to slow down,’’ Sipley admitted.
“Making sure my preparation was right was a big factor because that encompasses a lot of things like nutrition, sleep, hydration, recovery, and doing ‘extras’ at training.
“All that is important, it’s massive. I have taken a huge leaf out of how ‘Chez’ and ‘Turbo’ prepare. I’ve picked their brains and asked the annoying questions like what they eat, and what do they do to prepare.
“Daly had one of his best seasons this year at the age of 34. That’s a true testament to the person he is.
“I’ve learnt so much over the past three years about myself. It has been the most amount of NRL footy that I have played. I feel like 2023 was one of my best in terms of numbers wise and playing.”
Sipley said Manly’s new Head of Performance, Jon Clarke, has also made an impressive impact on the squad since pre-season training began last month.
A world class strength and conditioning coach, Clarke brings plenty of experience, including working with England Rugby.
“I’ve loved ‘JC’s’ program that he has produced. Look, pre-season is always hard but with his system, it’s very relative,’’ Sipley said.
“There are a lot of conditioning games that we play, so when we are doing transition work, I feel like I am getting footy fit.
“In previous pre-seasons, I guess it was that ‘old school’ mentality of getting flogged and then see how you go in a game, whereas now, we have got the ball in hand much more than what you usually do for pre-seasons which is what you want.
“I’ve really enjoyed ‘JC’. I always tell him that if he was around at the start of my career, I reckon I’d be playing for 50 years like ‘Chez’’ (laughs). I love the way ‘JC’ has been able to challenge me."
As for the 2024 season, Sipley said there was definitely a ‘vibe’ about what the team can achieve, but stopped short at predictions.
“I don’t want to dive too much into it because actions speak louder than words,’’ Sipley added.
“We have got something to prove. We have underperformed since 2021.
“We have got the team to do it. But again, actions speak louder than words. All I can say is ‘watch us’.”