After an ARL premiership in 1996, Manly entered the NRL in a slightly awkward position. The Sea Eagles took up the NRL’s offer to merge with local rivals North Sydney, forming the Northern Eagles. On-field performances were terrible and in 2003, it was apparent that the marriage was dysfunctional. The venture got a divorce – the Bears never returned to first grade while the Sea Eagles have stuck it out since.
Since the divorce, Manly have been one of the strongest teams in the competition with an unbroken run of finals appearances from 2005 to 2014. Only the salary cap-breaching Melbourne were better and there’s a solid argument that the two runners-up “honours” held by the Sea Eagles could perhaps have been premierships. The last couple of years have not been up to standard but after a patchy start, this year sees them as genuine finals contenders again.