Ben Blaschke, NRL.com
It’s the question that even has Matt Ballin scratching his head: left side or right side… which is better? The veteran Sea Eagles dummy-half has seen it all during his seven seasons at the club but never has he witnessed such a dilemma as which way to go when he has both Kieran Foran on the left and Daly Cherry-Evans on the right calling for the ball.
The stats certainly don’t help. Both sides have scored exactly 27 tries apiece in 2013 with Foran’s combination with Justin Horo, Steve Matai and Jorge Taufua just as lethal as Cherry-Evans, Anthony Watmough, Jamie Lyon and David Williams on the right.
And as Ballin notes: “I’ve got 100 per cent of the say (which way the ball goes).”
Yet it is the threats Manly boast across the park that is the side’s greatest asset in the run home to the finals with Ballin full of praise for the manner in which the two sides of the field have come together in 2013.
“I think we’re very fortunate to have that,” Ballin told NRL.com ahead of today’s clash with the Gold Coast at Brookvale. “They’re both pretty similar when it comes to calling the ball. They both show a lot of maturity so if it’s not happening on one side they are pretty happy to let the other guy take over.
“We’ve got a really good mix at the moment. When one is playing really well we can go that way a lot more and if one is struggling a bit we can go the other way. I think we’ve got some good communication going on between the three of us and we try and work on that every week.
“In the end it’s really up to me but between the three of us and Brett Stewart as well, we try and work together as much as we can.”
Ballin also pointed to the fact that Manly’s current spine has been together for almost three full years now as key to their success.
“It goes right down to things like socialising and understanding each other but then on the footy field you practice what you are going to be doing and your involvement all the time as well,” he said. “So working hard on our combinations always benefits that better communication
“We’re privileged too to have someone like Jamie Lyon that can fill in when needed in the halves (as he did to such great effect in last week’s win over North Queensland).
“He just slotted straight in. The boys have been giving it to him about not being [in the halves] since 2008 and he gives it back about being a premiership half. But he is just a natural wherever he goes so we’re never worried.”
The Sea Eagles have endured a tough time of it in recent months with injuries and some narrow losses threatening their position in the top four. But consecutive wins over Parramatta and the Cowboys has their season back on track as they finally come out of the representative season.
While neither opponent ranks particularly high on their list of scalps, the fact that the Sea Eagles have scored 84 points in the process has been a real positive with Ballin noting those results coincided with the return from injury of fullback Brett Stewart.
“He is a real threat to teams,” Ballin said. “Having him there, teams tend to gang up on him a bit and it opens it up for Jorge Taufua and Stevie and then ‘Killer’ (Lyon) and ‘Wolfie’ on the other side. He is a great player and he is back to good form but I think our backs are playing really well at the moment, they’re finishing things off and Brett is having two and three try assists which has been great. Even the games we’ve won this year we haven’t put teams away so to win by 20-odd the past few weeks is very pleasing.”
Ballin said he was confident the Sea Eagles were shaping up well for another title push this season despite recording three losses and a draw against the three sides above them on the Telstra Premiership ladder this season.
“We’ve got all the confidence in the world in ourselves,” he said. “Whether we can put that onto the field and turn it into wins is another thing but we believe in our ability and now we’ve just got to get those wins to give ourselves a chance.”