Early on in the pre-season, I posed the question “Mannah or Machine?”. Having watched Tim Mannah go about his preparations for a number of seasons, I thought I had a handle on his work ethic. This year, I reckon he took his training to a new level. Relentless would probably be an appropriate adjective.
Watching the Eels captain go through his paces at Saleyards would leave few in doubt about his drive, his leadership and his professionalism. After his first round performance at Lottoland on Sunday, and eight tough seasons wearing the blue and gold behind him, the former Origin forward certainly emphasised what he brings to the team.
A Huge Start To The Season
Much of the media coverage this week has focussed on Suaia Matagi’s blockbuster debut for the Eels, and rightly so. His charges into the Sea Eagles pack rattled the Lottoland stands and brought roars from the crowd and plaudits from the commentators. For Parramatta fans, the search for a new cult hero in the mould of Fuifui Moimoi looks to have finally found its mark. Personally, I wouldn’t limit Matagi to such a comparison as he offers a much higher work rate than Fui, along with subtle ball skills.
Mannah’s contributions may have been overshadowed by the explosiveness of the new recuit’s crashes, but his statistics from the match warrant special mention.
It would be unusual to describe 51 minutes of an 80 minute game as indefatigable, yet in this period the Eels stalwart notched up a match high 173 running metres and completed 29 tackles. However, such an impressive number doesn’t tell the whole tale. Mannah’s renowned ability to achieve quick play the balls effectively adds more metres to his charges with the defence getting less time to set for the next play. On Sunday, it went a long way towards setting up the victory.
Winning that middle third of the field was vital in Parramatta’s game management at Brookie. With room to move, Eels halves Norman and Gutherson were afforded more time to organise the attack and execute their kicks. Indeed, whenever you see a dominant display from a half, it’s important to examine and acknowledge the efforts of the blokes in the engine room. Against the Sea Eagles, Mannah and Co certainly laid the platform.
Coach, Brad Arthur is not interested in people who stagnate. When accepting the coveted Thornett Medal in 2015,Mannah himself credited the Eels mentor for an inspiring conversation prior to the season proper. He wanted Mannah to take his game to the next level and the burly prop obliged in a standout year.
Already this year, in the trials and the first round, supporters have witnessed newfound ball skills and changes to the way Mannah collides with the defence line. The adoption of a hit and spin in the hit-ups has seen tthe Eels veteran bounce out of tackles to either open up the opportunity for second phase play or land on his hands and knees for a quick play the ball.
The Season Ahead
Tim Mannah has been deservedly honoured with the team captaincy this year, a role he shares with noted hard-man Beau Scott. As a skipper he sets standards on and off the field, leading by example and encouragement. The big fella is one of the fittest players in the squad and exhorts effort and resilience from his team mates.
The addition of middle forwards such as Matagi, Brown and Vave will unburden Mannah from shouldering most of the responsibility of the team’s go forward. It doesn’t mean that he won’t lead the run metres, Sunday proved that. However, with powerful forwards joining him in the middle, defences will be challenged and weakened by the barrage of charges thrown at them for the entirety of the match. With opposition packs being put on the back foot, running metres well in excess of 100 metres for Mannah and his cohorts should be a regular occurrence.
Coach Brad Arthur values players who leave nothing in the tank. He’s acknowledged Mannah as a player who’s achieved success through hard work, pure and simple. You don’t get to your ninth season in the NRL by taking shortcuts. You don’t take your place in the middle of the field without being plenty tough. New recruit, Suaia Matagi singled out his fellow prop as a player he’s learned from since joining the Eels. Furthermore, Mannah is a wonderful ambassador for the club, something that will prove to be an asset for potential sponsors.
As the Parramatta club embarks on its Premiership campaign in an historic 70th year, who better to lead the team than a classy and tough local junior, under the coaching of a man who’s Parramatta to the core!
Images courtesy of the Parramatta Eels