New Manly Marlins coach Brian Melrose says Shute Shield fans can expect to see a different style of rugby from his side this season.
The former Waratahs attack coach returns to the Shute Shield after a six-year hiatus and seems eager to shake things up at Manly Oval after a disappointing 2016 season.
“We’ll definitely evolve our style of play. I’m not going to give too much away but we will definitely evolve and the boys now realise that some things are going to change,” Melrose said.
“The players will obviously have a big say in how we do things, but you’ve got to acknowledge that it’s been 20 years since Manly last won a competition, so clearly there are a few things that we aren’t doing as well as we could be.”
After falling just short against Eastwood in the 2015 grand final, the Marlins finished seventh and missed the playoffs last season.
While Melrose is keeping his cards close to his chest ahead of the opening round in April, he did say that all teams that he has coached in the past have looked to attack as much as possible.
“The first thing we’ve got to do is just get better. It’s now probably the hardest competition to win for as long as I can remember and I’ve been watching it since I was a kid.
“At this point, it’s easy to say let’s aim to get back in the finals but the six teams that finished above Manly last year are all very good sides and I don’t see any of them necessarily getting any worse. So there is only one answer and that is for us to get better otherwise we’ll finish in the same place.”
Melrose coached Manly in 2003 and 2004 and led the then struggling Marlins from 10th
in his first year in the job.
“I don’t know if the club has changed that much, there’s still a great bunch of players. When I took over last time, the club was in a bit of a hole but we did quite well, we finished second in the Shute Shield in 2003 and fell just short. It’s probably a bit similar now, the club is obviously disappointed with last year’s results so the challenge now is to regain some pride.”
Centre Dennis Pili-Gaitau is the latest Marlin to earn a Super Rugby contact after joining the Melbourne Rebels earlier this year, however Melrose said he had retained the majority of last year’s squad for this season.
“It seemed a lot of our guys were under pressure to go and play at other clubs and the key was to retain those guys and I’m glad we did. They are all good players, one average year doesn’t change that.”
“Footy is a game where momentum and consistency plays a big part. When it’s in your favour, things go well or you can have a year like Manly had last year where things just don’t work out.
“Obviously there was quite a turnover of talent from 2015 but it’s hard to comment too much on what happened last year because I wasn’t involved week in, week out. I’ll leave it to others to determine what went wrong and I’ll focus on trying to improve the situation.”
Melrose said he hoped the Marlins would be better physically and mentally prepared for matches this year but added that it was important to find a balance to allow players to maximise their potential.
“I’ve got some guys working with me from professional backgrounds and that will hopefully give the players every opportunity to prepare as well as they can. I think they’ll be resourced well so maybe that’s an advantage because they’ll be surrounded by top class people.
“You’ve also got to remember though that this is club footy for a reason. Guys need to work and study so it’s fine to say you need to be as professional as possible but you need to keep a balance so that they can live a life and train as hard as they can. Having been involved in both club and professional footy, I think I understand that balance.
Manly begin their 2017 campaign with matches against Southern Districts, Sydney Uni, Parramatta and Eastern Suburbs in the opening month but Melrose doesn’t think there will be many easy games this season.
“I genuinely think it’ll be as tight as last year plus you’ll have clubs like Parramatta improving. West Harbour had some good wins last year and Todd Louden has a great background and he’ll do a good job there.
“Then you look at the teams above us, I don’t think any of them are going backwards.”