Ben Blaschke, NRL.com
Back from injury and looking ominous after playing a key role in Manly’s run of three straight wins, fullback Brett Stewart says the Sea Eagles are positioning themselves nicely for another premiership tilt.
And the mercurial No.1 insists the 2011 premiers are better placed than table-topping South Sydney and second-placed Sydney Roosters to go all the way in 2013.
Manly have struggled against their main premiership rivals this season, having lost to South Sydney, the Roosters (twice) and drawn with Melbourne.
But with Stewart finally back from the back injury that ruled him out of this year’s State of Origin series and the draining representative season now over, they are confident that will change come the business end of the season.
“There are a few of us here that have played quite a few games and semi-final football at this time of year which I think is a bit of an advantage,” Stewart told NRL.com ahead of Monday night’s clash with battling Wests Tigers.
“We need to start playing that type of football now if we want to figure in the finals again but we’re building nicely.
“We’ve been hit with a bit of injury this year and just to be fielding the same team is what’s doing it for us at the moment. It’s certainly a good time of year to be building some momentum.”
The Sea Eagles clearly missed Stewart’s input during his lengthy mid-season absence after he chipped a bone in his back against St George Illawarra in Round 8.
Having won six of their first eight games, they won just one of their next six in Stewart’s absence but his return has sparked a three-match winning run in which they’ve scored a total of 122 points against Parramatta, North Queensland and the Gold Coast.
While Stewart credits a stable squad for the club’s performances of late, he acknowledged that his own contribution would be vital to the side’s premiership chances in the lead-up to the finals.
“I definitely want to step it up and that comes with being a senior player,” he said.
“I feel like at the moment I’m still finding my feet a little bit although it’s good to be playing injury-free. We’re fielding the same side which we haven’t done all year so I think that’s helping us as well and I’ve got some good players around me which is easier.
“Everyone is doing their job and when that happens it makes my job pretty easy. I feel like the pressure is off a little bit and I can just play my natural game.”
While the Sea Eagles have crept under the radar somewhat this season given the impressive form of the Rabbitohs and Roosters in particular, there is clearly a quiet confidence among the Manly playing group as they look to add another premiership to the two they’ve won in recent seasons (2008 and 2011).
Veteran prop Brent Kite, who played in both of those premiership wins, said a third title was well within the club’s reach as he prepares to farewell the Sea Eagles for Penrith at the end of the year.
“We’d like to think that our best football is ahead of us and we’ve shown in the past that we can get things right for September,” he said. “If we can do that again we can match it with these in-form teams.
“We’ve certainly got the talent here and we’ve had the talent here for a long time. We’ve already got two and it’s good to have those but I reckon we’ve got one more in us.”