The last 12 months has put Manly Sea Eagles fans, staff and players to the ultimate test. Facing internal conflict between the board, the players have endured seeminly endless media scrutiny and speculation over their futures.
Well-publicised internal conflict between players, too, has been a constant over this timeframe - although Manly players have consistently denied any rifts. The movement of Anthony Watmough to Parramatta in 2015, ahead of the scheduled 2016 move provided some salary cap space in the Sea Eagles coffers, but sparked a wave of player departures of key players beginning next season.
Daly Cherry-Evans and Keiran Foran - arguably the best halves pairing in the game over the last 4-5 seasons are playing their last together in 2015 - with DCE headed to Gold Coast and Foran to Parramatta in 2016. Any NRL pundit will tell you that a halves combination like this is not only not easily replaceable, but often a once-in-a-generation combination.
If the loss of these gifted halves wasn't enough, a loss of key forwards including Jason King (retirement), Anthony Watmough (Parramatta) and Glenn Stewart (Souths) are just as devastating. These three players alone shared 680 first grade matches, including two grand final wins in 2008 and 2011. The Manly foward pack in recent seasons has been acceptable, not impressive. What of the new breed?
And what of the aging captain, Jamie Lyon? Having retired from representative football in 2010, Manly fans have painfully waited for the dreaded words that Lyon will call curtains on his illustrious career - at age 33, these words will soon come. His vital centre pairing with Steve Matai appears to be on borrowed time either way - Matai's consistent injuries and requests for a release from his contract will surely take their toll. His recent contract extension to 2017 hasn't allayed any fears of this.
With the personnel losses of 2014 and 2015, as well as those major ones for the 2016 season, where to for Manly? Regardless of the talent they may recruit with the freed-up salary cap from these marquee losses, a team of quality players does not necessary make a quality team - look at the talent pool of the 2014 wooden spooners Cronulla. To be a successful club, players need a close-knit and well-oiled team environment that only comes with years of trust, understanding and experience. Manly had this in 2008 and 2011, but this has degraded in recent seasons.
With huge personnel losses, in-fighting and endless media scrutiny, the next few seasons look bleak for the Sea Eagles. The dogged Manly spirit they've made famous will serve them well game-to-game in 2015, but they won't be able to sustain these losses and move on from them anytime soon. I think we'll see an uncharacteristic cellar-dwellar scenario for the Sea Eagles, at least for a couple of seasons.