Manly Sea Eagles have the form and experience to challenge the Storm
BY Ricky Stuart – Sunday September 15, 2012
MANLY get their second half right and suddenly we’re all talking about them as contenders again.
This time last week we had them all written off after a disappointing game against Canterbury, but now, after eliminating North Queensland on Friday, they can’t be discounted as they head to Melbourne to play the Storm.
Their performance showed just how experienced they are at this kind of football.
For six or seven weeks now we’ve watched them clock off and struggle in the second half and we all expected them to correct that last week. I’ll go into why they didn’t get it right a little later, but, fair to say at the time, when they didn’t produce we wondered whether they still had it.
Against the Cowboys, they showed they still have it. They’ve come good at the right time of the season.
Throughout what has become the usual refereeing clangers – how long until somebody finally takes a stand and fixes it? – the Sea Eagles maintained their composure and put together a strong second half to go with their first 40 minutes.
It puts them a game away from the grand final and underlines the job Geoff Toovey has done this season. When you remember the old line about it being harder to stay at the top than it is to get there, you begin to appreciate the job Toovey has done.
There were two key factors in Manly’s performance on Friday night.
The first was the Jamie Lyon influence.
Jamie Lyon in action for the Eagles on Friday night. Picture: Getty Images Source: The Daily Telegraph
There was a lot of doubt about Lyon all week, but the moment he ran out the only thing we could do was assume his calf injury was satisfactory enough to finish the game. More significant than that was the influence he had over his teammates and he played a part in three tries.
Most of all he kept them calm and focused and around him their confidence grew.
They dominated the Cowboys early and probably deserved to have more points at halftime but then failed to panic when they didn’t.
The second factor to their performance was their emotional chord.
They got it right.
They became sidetracked against the Bulldogs.
So much of the build-up for that game was spent around revisiting history, Des Hasler against his old team, old scores to settle, all that kind of stuff.
The Sea Eagles told us they were refusing to buy into it, but almost from the moment the game began you could see they weren’t there.
They got caught up talking, chasing players because they couldn’t let any sledge go unanswered, and their game unravelled around them.
They grew up in a week, leaving all that rubbish behind. Some players can sledge and some can’t, and at this time of year it’s best to know what kind of player you are.
Manly v Melbourne
There’s plenty of history between the players of the Manly Sea Eagles and the Melbourne Storm. Picture: Brett Costello Source: The Daily Telegraph
Now they play Melbourne and renew a rivalry that once again will bring back a lot of old memories for them and provide a lot of old ground for the media to go over.
Twice they played each other in grand finals, the scoreboard split one-each, with the Storm later being stripped of their grand final.
All these stories will get dredged up this week and the job will be on both sides to minimise the distractions.
A week ago, Manly couldn’t have won this game, but there was more than enough improvement there to show they are now capable of upsetting the Storm. The new finals system has worked out just about perfectly in that regard, giving us top quality teams and the rightful teams still alive at the pointy end of the season.
I do know the Storm are in great position.
They look a lot fresher, physically and mentally, than they have in recent years and have the added advantage of players returning from injury, which only adds to their depth.
Craig Bellamy is in the fortunate position of being able to name a squad of 20 and picking the 17 to run out that he wants and not be dictated to by injury.
One advantage Manly have this week is that the quality of both teams means there will be very little niggle in this game.
For all that’s at stake – and what any distractions could do to Manly given their experience from the Bulldogs game – that can only be a good thing for the premiers.
This will give us a game where both teams are concentrating on football, aware of the big prize. Let’s hope the referees don’t spoil it.