Manly have seized on more than their fair share of luck to be riding high at the halfway point, with a top-two finish beckoning if they can keep their momentum.
Ladder position: 3rd
Manly's best is clearly past them. All their stars are too old and they've got no forwards. They won't be a force again in 2014.
Well, somebody forgot to tell that to Geoff Toovey and his players because the northern beaches boys have been comfortably ensconced in the top four pretty much all year and at the halfway point are sitting in third – equal second on competition points – shrugging off injury and off-field issues to just keep on chugging along. Even though not too many people are tipping them to win the comp they'll certainly be in the calculations come September.
Positives: The performances of some unheralded forwards brought in to replace the departed Brent Kite, George Rose, Richie Fa'aoso, Joe Galuvao and David Gower have been a pleasant surprise. The highlight is the strong efforts of former Rabbitoh Josh Starling but ex-Broncos fringe player Dunamis Lui has grown another leg since heading south, and Panthers junior Jesse Sene-Lefao has also provided strong support to senior men Jason King and Brenton Lawrence.
Kiwi Test debutant Peta Hiku has also come on in leaps and bounds, to the point that he is keeping 2013's equal top try scorer David Williams
out of first grade, and journeyman half Jack Littlejohn has been outstanding when called on to fill in for either of the all-star halves pairing.
It also seems unlikely Toovey will need to call for an investigation into the officiating this year with the side enjoying some friendly treatment from the men in pink. In particular, Manly received a big leg-up late in the game in both its comeback wins over the Cowboys in Round 7
and against the Eels at Brookvale in Round 3
with a few controversial calls going their way. Those four competition points will be absolutely gold at the pointy end of the season.
Negatives: There have been a few. Back-ended contracts have caused salary cap dramas and resulted in popular clubman Glenn Stewart being forced to finish his career at the Rabbitohs, with a chance of another name or two to follow. As mentioned above the side has had more than its share of injury dramas, particularly to key players.
The fact the side is able to keep churning out wins in the absence of big name stars – Brett and Glenn Stewart, Jamie Lyon, Jason King and halves Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran have all spent time on the sidelines this year – is arguably a positive and another testament to the belief within the squad and the club's ability to shrug off adversity. But having six players good enough to represent their state and/or country on the sidelines at varying times is a problem for any roster.
Our exercise with the Ladder Predictor
has the Sea Eagles finishing on a minimum 34 points, certainly good enough for the top four but borderline top two.