Manly Sea Eagles come from behind to beat Wests Tigers and stay in NRL top four
On the northern beaches it hasn't gone unnoticed that years with a seven in them tend to be very good ones for Manly. Premiers in 1987, runners-up in 1997 and 2007. Four competition wins in the 1970s.
Grand finals are not made and won, of course, by patterns of numbers except for the ones that are assembled across the field. And to watch Trent Barrett's team in isolation against Wests Tigers at home at Lottoland on Sunday afternoon you wouldn't have concluded that this was a side destined for ANZ Stadium on October 1.
The Sea Eagles were again far from convincing in a come-from-behind 26-16 victory over 15th-placed Wests Tigers. But with seven rounds remaining they are where they want to be, inside the top four and with a genuine semi-finals campaign in the offing.
"It's round 20 next week and we're still there," Barrett said. "There is a lot of belief here and a lot of commitment to each other. I still think the last really good performance we put together was probably against Cronulla a month ago but we've just managed to tick it over. We've just got to keep going.
"They're all important (games) now. That's what I said to the players. We're going to be playing teams either fighting for top-four finish or fighting to stay in the hunt to jag an eighth spot position. It's funny, as soon as that (State of) Origin period finishes the stakes go up and we as a side need to keep improving. That's the aim."
Manly were eight points behind midway through the second half when Tigers halfback Luke Brooks was ruled to have spilled the ball in a tackle by Manly centre Brian Kelly inside his own 10 metres. Replays showed Kelly appeared to dislodge the ball but the Tigers did not get the call and would pay the price in what proved a major turning point.
Sea Eagles winger Matthew Wright leaped over in the left corner from the resulting scrum for his second try, then four minutes later Manly had re-taken the lead when fellow flyer Akuila Uate burst past Matt McIlwrick and Aaron Woods in the middle of the field and proceeded to dance effortlessly around James Tedesco.
The usual suspects, Daly Cherry-Evans and the Trbojevic brothers, Tom and Jake, soon after combined with five-eighth Blake Green to finish off the visitors with a neat set play.
If it looked all too easy as Jake Trbojevic put the ball down under the crossbar it was anything but for Manly on a Sunday in which it didn't quite click for them.
They have a previously uncelebrated forward pack that has enhanced its reputation and they undoubtedly have the weapons to be serious contenders this year. To see two of them, Cherry-Evans and Tom Trbojevic, lay on tries flamboyantly for Shaun Lane and Wright in the first 11 minutes showcased that.
At that point the Tigers had looked in danger of fulfilling pre-match forecasts and travelling back over the Spit Bridge with their tails between their legs.
But while the heaving crowd on a picture perfect winter afternoon could smell a Manly romp, what they got was a wrestle.
"Our attack has been a bit clunky for a couple of weeks to be honest. We had the two really wet games, Newcastle and the Warriors, and then we weren't in that game (against Penrith) last week.
"It's just been a bit of a flat spot for us the last few weeks but we've been managing to win, which is pleasing. We would have lose those last year. We just never really got going. We put one good set together there in the first half and Laney scored but outside of that it was a bit how you going."
As for explaining Manly's lack of cohesion it is "hard to put your finger on", according to Cherry-Evans.
"It's something we have identified," the Sea Eagles captain said. "So we just need to continue to work hard. We are eventually going to click. It is pleasing to continue to win but there is certainly improvement left in this side."
- Sydney Morning Herald