Almanac Rugby League: The Manly Way

On Thursdays during the footy season, we’re featuring a series of rugby league stories along the lines of  Malarkey Publications’ Australian football-focussed book, Footy Town. Today we feature Lindsey Cuthbertson, a dyed-in-the-wool Manly Warringah supporter. Lindsey used to write for a living as a sports reporter; now he writes for fun. Although he has written about a variety of sports, rugby league is his true love, having been a part of his life for as long as he can remember. He hasn’t missed a State of Origin match since he started watching them at age five, but he tries his best to be as unbiased a footy fan as possible.


There’s both a yin and a yang to supporting a sporting team. Heartbreak and joy. Pleasure and pain. Over time the colossal peaks of a premiership combine with the depths of defeat, and through the vistas of memory carved into your mind you may find yourself in the promised land of being joined with a team for life.


Two matches – one low and the other high on the spectrum of sporting emotion – took my support for the Sea Eagles to another level. The first was the 1997 Grand Final when the Sea Eagles lost in the final minute of the match. I was nine and the loss hurt me deeply. Looking back, I’d never experienced anything like it during my brief years following rugby league.


The second is a match in 1998 between Manly and a team which no longer exists. It won’t go down in history for most – but it means everything to me. For as a ten-year-old boy from a small New South Wales town, the game between the then-Gold Coast Chargers and Manly at Carrara Stadium in 1998 was the first NRL match I ever attended.


The match fell just after my tenth birthday. My grandmother had promised to buy me a Sea Eagles jersey as a present, so I wrote to Cliff Lyons – one of my favourite players – a few weeks beforehand asking if some of the Manly players would be able to sign it at the game. The letter was sent away and, in my life of school, backyard footy and BMXing, it quickly went to the back of my mind. My birthday came and went, and my promised jersey did not arrive in time due to a delay in getting a number put on it. I was excited about going to my first match and simply assumed that my letter would not get a reply.


It didn’t get a written one: my home received a phone call the Friday morning before the game instead. One of my parents answered it and passed the message on to my school to call them back. I jogged up to the office wondering if something bad had happened.


The story passed on to me over the phone went like this: Cliffy had called to ask if I was still coming to the game. When he was told I was, he asked if I had received my jersey for my birthday. When he was told I hadn’t, he responded by offering to organise a jersey himself and get the entire team to sign it. And the kicker? If I was to come to the Manly dressing room 30 minutes after the game was over, and mentioned my name, I could come in and meet the players.


I don’t think I paid attention to anything else for the rest of the day. My mind was consumed by excitement and the kind of pure joy only the young possess and the older reminisce about. Excitement turned to impatience on the two-hour drive up to the Gold Coast the following evening. In the darkness the trip up the highway was an eternity; the walk from wherever we parked to the stadium itself felt even longer. The impatience reverted back to excitement again once we sat down at our seats.


My first NRL match went by in a blur. Manly won in convincing fashion. My brother and I ate buckets of hot chips to stave off the winter cold and we bruised our heels stamping on the metal flooring beneath our feet, along with the crowd, each time something thrilling happened.


But it was what happened afterwards which is the most well-preserved flashback of the night: how we were ushered into the dressing room by Cliffy himself, his hand on our shoulders as he introduced my brother and me to his teammates one by one and how, in turn, they ruffled my hair and made me feel like the most special kid on the face of the earth. I can hear how they laughed as I pulled a wad of footy cards out of my pocket and politely asked ‘Mr. Toovey’, ‘Mr. Menzies’ and ‘Mr. Fulton’ for their autographs.


I remember Cliffy presenting me with my new jersey, adorned with the players’ signatures on the back, and I can still feel its fabric in my fingers as I clutched it in the back seat of the car all the way home.


And within those two matches of footy, and an hour in the change rooms after the second one, the Sea Eagles sunk their talons in and never let me go.




I became a Manly fan at the age of seven but they weren’t the first team I was interested in. At ages four and five I was interested in the Brisbane Broncos and, in my sixth year, I flirted with the Canberra Raiders. There’s a pretty simple pattern emerging here: in the early 90s, these three teams were the most successful. However, once I hopped into the Sea Eagles’ nest I never flew away.


But why? What was it about Manly that had me cheering for Cliffy and ‘Toovs’ and ‘Beaver’ and ‘Spud’, game after game?


As I’ve grown older, I’ve found myself asking questions such as this. Why does a man with no geographic connection to the Northern Peninsula barrack so strongly for the Manly team? Because, at this point, I’m in deep with the Sea Eagles. I held tight during the bleak years of the Northern Eagles and came out the other side as the reformed Manly tip-toed along a financial tightrope by the skin of its teeth. Several of their jerseys, including the signed one given to me by Cliffy back in ’98, hold pride of place in my wardrobe. I probably have more Manly merchandise than my 10-year-old self could have ever believed.


For the decade between 2005 and 2014, it’s because I watched my team develop the kind of culture which was the envy of the league. The ‘Manly Way’ filled me with an incredible amount of pride and helped set the Sea Eagles apart from many other teams.


The Manly Way is pinning a team down in their twenty and pounding them with relentless up-and-in defence;

The Manly Way is refusing to give in and competing until the very end;

The Manly Way is loyalty to your own – your teammates, your club and its history;

The Manly Way is a relentless attitude in a sport that’s arguably the toughest in the world.


2015 saw several new qualities emerge in the club, and it made me question a lot of things.

Did the Manly Way now include its star player holding the club to ransom for a bigger fee?

Did the Manly Way now include the club white-anting the coach until he was forced out?

Is this what I supported now?




I’m a person who spends a lot of time asking questions, and I ask a lot about rugby league. I’m guilty of spending far too much time daydreaming about the past, present and future of the sport in situations where I really ought to be more focused on the task at hand. But 2015 was the year where I really began to turn this questioning attitude to my support of the Sea Eagles.


Some will read this and think questioning my support of a footy team so deeply makes me either less of a fan or someone who needs to get more of a life. I say if a part of your life doesn’t hold up to questioning, and you never bother to turn the blowtorch on it to find out, a part of you rings hollow. I’ve spent far too much time on the rollercoaster supporting the Sea Eagles to not find out.





There are many elements to a footy club, and you have to ask yourself what exactly it is that makes you barrack for them. It appears there is a certain threshold which exists within a supporter, one that allows them to continue going for their team despite disapproving one or more of their current components. It explains the ability of a Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs or a Parramatta Eels fan to continue cheering for their team despite recent years of underachievement and frustrating internal politicking.


It also explains the ability of a Manly Sea Eagles fan to do the same.


Privatisation saved the Sea Eagles in the 2000s but the boardroom became a factional battlefield. Somehow we won two premierships at the same time. The club may have been a leaky vessel, but not too many care when your team is winning.


Time and again the Sea Eagles navigated front office issues being played out on the back page. It took less than a week after the 2011 Grand Final victory for Des Hasler to announce that he was leaving early to coach the Bulldogs. All thoughts of victory celebrations felt short-lived.


The relentless undermining of coach Geoff Toovey began in 2015. Stories were leaked to the media without his knowledge, and then we watched him learn about it on live television. We saw countless stories in the media where Manly’s owners and executives refused to put the story to bed. Finally, the reports began rumbling of ‘Toovs’ being shown the door at the end of the season for Trent Barrett. A club which found great success from recruiting its head coaches from within, who knew the club’s history and culture like it’s their own DNA, seemed hell-bent on leaving a club legend out to dry. I hoped ‘Toovs’ could take the Sea Eagles on a record-breaking winning streak into that September as the perfect response – but we fell short of the finals, and ‘Toovs’ was sent on his way.


‘Toovs’ inspired me a lot when I was younger, and in many ways he still does. I was always the runt of my schoolyard litter; ‘Toovs’ was often the smallest bloke on the footy field who never took a backward step. I loved the way he led us to Grand Final victory in 1996 with a fractured eye socket. I loved the way he copped a faceful of Adam MacDougall’s studs in 1997 and played on regardless. He was the toughest player I’ve ever seen, and it will take a lot for someone to take his place.


So when I watched the situation unfold in 2015, it was more to me than watching one coach replace another: it was the experience of seeing a man who evoked my fondness for the Sea Eagles in the first place be battered once more – not by the collisions of the opposition, but by the unseen sniping of his own organisation. Through it all, ‘Toovs’ again displayed his characteristic toughness in another dimension. He stayed professional, focused on doing his job and only spoke positively about the club.


After all, part of the Manly Way is loyalty to your own – your teammates, your club and its history. Over the course of his career at Manly, both as a player and as a coach, ‘Toovs’ has been integral to all three elements.


When ‘Toovs’ left, a small part of my support for the Sea Eagles organisation went with him.




I get it: sport is now a business. And if sport is indeed a business, a player leveraging their position for the best possible outcome is nothing out of the ordinary. However, the quickest way to kill the myth of loyalty and intrinsic connection to a team is to watch a player sign a contract with another club, then renege and decide to stay for bigger money. I don’t dislike the player, but I certainly dislike this game.


Daly Cherry-Evans debuted for Manly in 2011 and very quickly became one of the best players in the game. In his first four seasons of NRL, Cherry-Evans won a grand final in 2011, was awarded the Clive Churchill medal in a losing grand final team two years later, and represented both his state and country. He also became one of the highest paid players in the game thanks to his decision to back out of a deal with the Titans and stick with the Sea Eagles, a decision which was well within the rules at the time.


Fans of a team support the players wearing its jersey. When a player decides to sign elsewhere, you may be sad to see them go, but simply start cheering for the player that takes their place the following season. To experience a player decide to sign for another team and then backflip to stay puts a fan in two minds. Are they staying for the club’s culture, or the monetary amount they are receiving? Are their motives for playing in your team’s jersey dominated more by intrinsic or extrinsic influences?


Time is the only thing to provide the answer to these questions, and as Manly fans we had the better part of a decade to find out. We’re almost halfway through his lengthy deal and it is proving to be a fruitful one. DCE now captains both Manly and Queensland, and is the starting halfback for Australia. He is a mature, well-spoken ambassador for Manly and is beginning to help bring back the Manly of old. I will support DCE as long as he pulls on the maroon and white of Manly – but when his contract backflip happened, I started asking myself if I agreed with the club’s decision to retain a player who should have already been locked in as the future of the Sea Eagles in the first place. I feel better about it now.




After 2015, Manly’s imposing aura crumbled apart over the next few years. The ‘back office’ battles continued. CEOs came and went on a conveyor belt. We were caught cheating the salary cap and paid the price. Our defence was abysmal. Despite all of those issues, the Trbojevic brothers emerged as some of the best players in the NRL – and Des Hasler returned as coach.


Yes, Des. He was persona non grata after his acrimonious exit from the club in 2011, but came back into the fold for the 2019 season after a stint at the Bulldogs. I started feeling like ‘the Manly Way’ I knew and loved may be returning. Our defence improved as the season went on and Des had players reaching their potential. Brad Parker and Moses Suli performed so well that Dylan Walker had to play five-eighth. Our forward pack became one of the best in the league. We went down to Melbourne and defeated the Storm in an epic bruiser. I started to believe.


Then Tommy Trbojevic ruptured his pec a few rounds before the finals.


When I look back upon the last 20 years to pinpoint a shining example of the Manly Way, it is the 2013 finals series. It is some of the most intense, backs-to-the-wall finals footy since the Bulldogs’ Grand Final run of 1998. For those who don’t remember, we lost 4-0 to the Roosters in Week One which was easily the match of the year. We threw everything we had at them and didn’t prevail. Most people predicted we would lose to the Sharks the following weekend due to an empty tank. This prediction almost came true but we held off their comeback in the second half to win 24-18. In our Preliminary Final against Souths, we were down 14-0 in as many minutes and then somehow picked ourselves off the canvas to knock them out and win 30-20. And while we didn’t win the Grand Final in our rematch against the Roosters, we went incredibly close and didn’t give up until the full-time siren.


I bring up the 2013 finals series because I saw echoes of it in how Manly went in the finals in 2019. We’d lost Tommy Turbo to injury, as well as five other starters, heading into our sudden-death match against the Sharks. We had every excuse not to win, but we dominated them in a great performance. We went into the next week’s match against Souths with belief and lost in a gallant display.


It’s easy for me to be biased and think a successful year is a re-emergence of the Manly Way, but the signs are there – both on and off the field.




If there is a recurring theme running through this, it’s my frustration over recent years with those in control of the club. At the beginning of the last decade, I felt like the Sea Eagles were a club set apart from their competitors: one that wove, and believed in, their own mythology and culture. Over the last few years I kept asking myself who was running the ship and why it was zig-zagging in such a chaotic trajectory? In 2015, I felt the club was at an impasse – an existential and cultural crossroads – and had decided to go down the wrong path.


So, credit where it’s due: lessons seem to have been learnt over the last 18 months. The joint seems calmer, the players are happy and we’re retaining our core playing group for the next few years.


Maybe the Sea Eagles ship is righting its course.




I don’t see myself ever stopping my support of the Sea Eagles, even if I’m critical of them. But I will also keep questioning the direction of my club whenever I feel answers need to be found. If loyalty is a part of the Manly Way, then it must not be blind.


There are too many moments in my life tied up in the club and I know there will be many more to come. Some will feel better than others but, as footy fans, we know the yin and the yang exists. The bad times make the good ones sweeter; those memories of glory bring light in the sporting darkness. It’s what we unknowingly signed up for as kids and it’s what keeps us going as adults. Following a footy team is a tapestry slowly woven one match, one loss, one win at a time.


And I’m glad mine is woven in maroon and white.


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Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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  1. Lindsey, I’m not a Manly fan but I can appreciate just how much Cliffy’s efforts meant to you as a kid. Hell, I’d support them too in that situation. And you had such good manners – ‘Mr Fulton, Mr Toovey, Mr Menzies’! ‘Toovs’ – club champion, club loyalist and, pound for pound, the gutsiest player to strap on a boot – certainly got a bum deal. You present a good case for finding that balance between club loyalty and a constructive critique of your club. A good lesson for all of us here.

  2. Matt O'Hanlon says

    Great yarn Lindsey although I find the notion of “Manly fan” and “unbiased” incompatible. I remember Toovey’s first game for Manly which I think was against Gt Britain. He was an ornament to the game and was treated poorly by the business. Whilst not a Manly fan I was always fascinated in the 70’s when they were seen as the silvertails that they played a brutal game. I sent them a letter as a 10 year old in 73 asking for any gear they could give me. The club sent a signed team photo and a pin. I still have them. They were also uncompromising. In the great Wests/ Manly blue at Lidcombe after the penalty I think it was Terry Randall who carted it straight up. There was no silvertail in that! My eldest son-who would be around your age was a great Manly fan and loved Menzies. That was hard to take for a Qld family that a family member lived in a Manly jersey with 12 on his back. Fortunately for all of us he grew out of the jersey and Manly!

  3. Adam Muyt says

    Am a Manly fan Lindsay, and I can relate to much of your critique of the club. Much like you, 2015 was a diffcult one – Tooves was treated appalling and I had to take a little sabbatical in order to get a perspective. Much like I felt in 1989 after that wonderful clubman, Alan Thompson, was left to hang out and dry by the club as they angled for Graham Lowe to take over as senior coach. Took me a couple of seasons to find my true Manly mojo after that episode.
    And that 2013 campaign…it did feel so ‘true’, in a Manly way. While we ultimately lost the GF, I was immensely proud of the side and how well they performed that year, despite plenty of pressures and problems. A credit to Coach Toovey, for sure.
    Funny having Des back. I was so upset at the way he upped and left the team and club. A premiership and then vamoosh. I likened that 2011 post-Grand Final week to being at a great party, one of the best, when, right at the end of the night, some selfish bastard attacks and abuses hosts and guests, leaving everyone with a bitter taste.
    But then, Des is such a complex, and interesting character. And he bleeds for his players and his club. He suits Manly. I’m happy to forgive.
    Terrific piece.

  4. Damian Roache says

    Endorse Ian’s comment re you presenting a good case for finding that balance between club loyalty and a constructive critique of your club. Ditto Matt’s opening line re Manly fan and unbiased !

    With a number of Manly mad mates I have certainly heard all the tales of wonder and woe as the past couple of decades have passed. Embellishment and economical use of the truth has been strewn through these tales.

    The Cliffy Lyons story was a great one. Wonder how often that happens today ?

  5. Tim Johnson says

    Not a Manly fan but really enjoyed this.
    Great gesture by Cliffy when he probably didn’t have to go to all of that effort – no wonder you have stuck solid.
    Also, have to say, that although I’m an Eels fan from way back, Toovs was such an inspiration growing up. Agree with you that not many from any era can stack up to his toughness at his size. Great football player.

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