THE weight of recent history is overwhelmingly against the reigning premiers Manly Warringah and the Canberra Raiders – but both sides still believe they can feature in the finals.
While most would say it’s too early to write off teams, only four sides in the 11 seasons since the NRL was formed have successfully rallied to make the finals when starting the year with a 0-3 record.
To make matters worse three of those sides were bundled out in the first week of the post-season, having used up all of their best energy just fighting to be involved.
Only the 2005 St George Illawarra side, which rallied from its 0-3 start to finish equal first in the minor premiership (second on percentages) has made any real impact after starting so poorly.
But despite being favoured to win the competition, the Dragons were beaten in the grand final qualifier by the eventual premiers Wests Tigers.
Brisbane in 2007 (finished eighth), Melbourne in 2000 (finished sixth) and Brisbane again in 1999 (finished eighth) are the only other sides to have managed a revival from a horror start.
“We’ve been through tough times before,” Manly captain Matt Orford said after the side’s third straight defeat.
“But we’ll stick together and fight hard. We will lick our wounds and try and get the two points next weekend.”
Coach Des Hasler admits to some angst but is not prepared to write off a season this early on.
“We’ll get out if it,” he said. “It is a frustrating, tough period. We are well and truly under the radar now.”
The feelings are similar in the nation’s capital, where Canberra coach David Furner is adamant the past won’t dictate his side’s future.
“As the saying goes, history is meant to be broken,” Furner said. “We are still very confident. It is three games and while we haven’t had a victory we do know that each game could have been won so we’re close to putting it together.
“We have had a few decisions not go our way and a few opportunities missed so we need to rectify those and then we should be okay.”
Furner is still upset his side was over-run by Parramatta last weekend in a game where key refereeing decisions went against his side.
“A little bit of patience and lack of execution has been the main problem but we can’t use those as excuses any more,” Furner adds.
“Last week we were fairly good and were in a position to win the game before a bit of luck went against us, so we’ll remain positive.
“I certainly believe (that in) the game on the weekend the better side lost. To explain that to the players is hard and we do need to be better but there is no need for us to be negative.
“This side has plenty of potential going forward and I expect that will show.”
Dragons back-rower Ben Creagh, a member of the St George Illawarra side in 2005, says confidence does take a battering when you start the year slowly but anything is possible with just a little bit of belief and hard work.
“It’s not the best feeling being 0-3 and not winning at the start of the season but it’s not the be all and end all,” Creagh tells nrl.com.
“We knew that back in 2005… we knew we could get those games back if we put our head down and stayed confident – and both Manly and Canberra can do that.
“There is no doubt not winning is deflating after a long off-season. That’s the toughest part.
“It can hurt the confidence a fair bit but there is enough time to fix up whatever is going wrong. You can’t leave your run too late but we showed in 2005 if you string some wins together you can be right back up there challenging for the premiership.
When asked what it was specifically that lofted the Dragons’ spirits in 2005 and therefore what should Manly and Canberra look to do, Creagh suggested a little bit of trust.
“It isn’t anything special that gets you out of a hole,” he says. “It just becomes about sticking to the basics and trusting what you’ve bought into as a team.
“All you can do is prepare as best you can, both individually and as a unit, and make sure you’re switched on for the game coming up.
“Once you get that one win under your belt the confidence certainly returns. You’re always just one win away from turning things around.”
Penrith coach Matt Elliott, who avoided a 0-3 start by beating Manly last night, warned against giving up on the reigning premiers.
“I’ll be interested to see who writes off Manly,” Elliott said. “I certainly wouldn’t be.”