On Friday, Manly may have turned up wearing camouflage fatigues but their back to back premiership credentials were there for everyone to see.
The half-back went missing. They didn’t have their star five-eighth, or the bloke called T-Rex, and they weren’t brilliant but they did enough to see off the impressive Bulldogs.
They came into the match having lost four of their last five including losses to the lowly Eels and Titans. There were many “ha ha’s” and “lol’s” in the online comment sections from opposition fans who have been praying for Manly’s reign to finally end.
The trip to England for the World Cup Challenge, an abundance of away games, player contract renewals, a new coach, the departure of a favourite coach, injuries, suspension, and a world-weariness caused by winning last year’s title have all been given as reasons for their indifferent start to the year.
Manly players always seem to be injured early in the year. It could be a product of their brutal style of play but it seems to have the effect of instilling false confidence in the other teams.
When they do finally get together, this all-representative outfit is almost unbeatable.
The re signing of Daly Cherry-Evans and the imminent retention of Kieran Foran have no doubt cheered them up, as has the return from injury of the Stewart brothers, Brett and Glenn.
As they did against Melbourne the previous round, the Bulldogs opened aggressively with their assortment of powerful forwards gaining impressive territory by running and passing up the middle.
They scored two tries, one at the beginning of the game and the other right at the end, but neither resulted from the work of those forwards.
Despite an early 0-5 penalty count Manly defended their line. That is their strength. Last year, teams would dominate for lengthy periods but simply couldn’t get over the try line.
It’s only a matter of time before one of Manly’s big forwards – usually Jason King, Glenn Stewart, or George Rose – smashes a ball carrier and causes a turnover. Then their star halves distribute the ball to their skillful yet powerful outside backs for a try. Those backs ie Matai and Tony Williams (when he plays centre) are also brutal defenders.
A team that has a non-starting prop who can do the work of a half is a team to be feared. In the 76th minute, with the game yet to be won, a slightly out of sorts Cherry-Evans hesitantly plopped the ball into George Rose’s hands.
The prop then proceeded to bypass Blues hooker Michael Ennis with a right foot step and, with Tolman around his shoulders and Stagg hanging onto his ankles, offloaded neatly to Matai who scored the sealer.
The reason some sportsmen develop a cult following is because they don’t look like sportsmen. Geoff Toovey called Rose an elite athlete during the post match conference. After that effort I have to agree but he still looks like an enormous marshmallow.
This match had added significance because Des Hasler was coaching against his former club for the first time. If he lost to the formidable team he created, he could also claim to be a winner which he sort of did when he referred to them as the premiers and the benchmark.
Asked about the significance of the Stewart brothers he replied: “One’s an Australian backrower, one’s an Australian fullback, one’s the most prolific try scorer in the game, and one’s a great ball player”. He could have provided similar tributes to the entire run-on side.
Serious questions are now being asked about how such a team can remain under the salary cap.
Until they’re forced to offload some of that serious talent, however, they are a team to be very scared of.