Winning ugly: Why Manly are the real deal

Jack Byrnes Roar Rookie

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    It was mid-March and Trent Barrett was more than just on the ropes.

    The Sea Eagles had come away from Lottoland with their tails between their legs for the second week running after an old fashioned flogging at the hands of South Sydney. A flying start to the game which saw three tries scored in next to no time became a distant memory as the Rabbitohs began to unpick the locks of what was an embarrassingly brittle defence.

    As the fans began to leave en masse with time still ticking away on the clock, serious questions were already being asked about the boys in maroon and white. While no one really gave Manly a hope of making a dent on the competition before the season commenced, the Round 2 touch up on a sunny Saturday afternoon led many to believe they were headed for their first ever wooden spoon.

    At the same time, calls for Barrett’s axing grew louder.

    Barely 48 hours later, skipper Daly Cherry-Evans faced a firing squad at the usual Monday presser. With questions about his own poor form being left in reserve, the hungry crowd of microphones and cameras wanted to know one thing; was Barrett on the way out?

    The response from Cherry-Evans was powerful; both at the time and looking back now.

    “I don’t watch the news. I don’t read the papers so it’s not my problem,” said the halfback with a wry smile.

    Fans were left gobsmacked. Gorden Tallis was livid. This was a guy on a $10 million deal who didn’t give a stuff.

    Or so we thought.

    Fast forward to Round 3 in Townsville and Cherry-Evans orchestrated one of the biggest upsets in recent seasons. Collectively, the Sea Eagles were awesome. Ruthless in attack, relentless in defence.

    daly-cherry-evans-manly-sea-eagles-nrl-rugby-league-2016

    (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

    A standard was set, and after their Round 5 epic against the Roosters at Allianz Stadium finished with a Dylan Walker match-winner right on the bell, doubts surrounding Barrett’s coaching ability began to evaporate.

    Since those early rounds, Manly have continued to go from strength to strength. A payback flogging of the Rabbitohs in Round 9 highlighted their potency with the ball, while their defensive solidity has improved out of sight from last year.

    The most intriguing attribute of Manly’s rise, however, has been their ability to grind out a victory.

    To win ugly.

    Against Canberra in the nation’s capital in Round 8, the Sea Eagles were gone at 12-2 with just under half an hour left on the clock. With a bit of luck, however, Jake Trbojevic gathered a freak deflection and dived over under the sticks to get his side back in the game. Five minutes later, Manly were ahead.

    From there it was a war of attrition, with Manly showing immense grit and gumption to come away victorious in Golden Point. It was far from their best performance, but it was a vital two points.

    Games against Newcastle and more recently the Wests Tigers have followed the same theme. Well below their best, but victors none the less.

    An ability to win the tight games is also setting this Sea Eagles side apart. Two golden point victories, both against the Raiders, and the thrilling win against the Roosters highlight as much.

    Suddenly, Manly are a genuine threat. Memories of early season turmoil belong in a different lifetime as Barrett’s men continue to surge. The Trbojevic brothers will form the backbone of both Manly and NSW for years to come, and Akuila Uate might just be the buy of the year. His try against the Tigers on Sunday was nothing short of scintillating.

    For this, Barrett himself deserves an enormous pat on the back. His ability to pull discards from the scrap heap (Shaun Lane, anyone?) and milk every ounce of talent out of players such as Frank Winterstein has been highly impressive. He has also undoubtedly been one of the key factors behind the spellbinding form of the lynchpin Cherry-Evans.

    And what about his ability to stand in the face of adversity and keep on fighting? This quality has obviously rubbed off on the players.

    Exactly how the Sea Eagles turned it all around isn’t clear cut, but one thing certainly is.

    Trent Barrett can coach, and Manly are the real deal.

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