You are doing something right when you surpass St George Illawarra in any area of today's game.

At the half-way mark of the competition rounds it is no longer the much vaunted left-side attack of the reigning premiers that is reaping the richest rewards.

With 26 tries it is actually Manly who are experiencing the most joy down that side of the field, and the good news for Eagles fans is that it will only get better.

Last year the Dragons were seemingly impossible to contain on the left with Brett Morris, Matt Cooper and Ben Creagh amassing 42 tries between them. That was despite every other team knowing full well what was coming their way.

Admittedly this season they have directed much more of their play towards Mark Gasnier and Jason Nightingale on the right flank, but the strike-rate of the Eagles is still highly impressive. Especially when you consider that they are very much a work in progress.

The current "it" word at the moment is the quality of a team's "spine", namely their numbers 1, 6, 7 and 9.

The Eagles' dominant win over the Bulldogs was just the sixth game that Brett Stewart, Kieran Foran, Daly Cherry-Evans and Matt Ballin have ever played together.

Furthermore through circumstance the "spine of their spine", Foran and Stewart, have only been in the same team on 10 occasions.

The combinations displayed in dismantling both the 'Dogs and Broncos in recent weeks belie such figures.

In both of these matches it has been Will Hopoate who has been the main beneficiary, and I'm sure he would be the first to say that his Origin jersey has in a large way come on the back of his inside service.

His three tries in those games all came in similar fashion, with Foran and Stewart making the right decisions as to when to draw and pass. The young five-eighth's sublime delayed delivery for the opening try against Brisbane was particularly creative and another clear indication of his growing awareness as a ball-player.

Foran and Stewart send Hopoate over against Brisbane

Stewart creates another overlap for a Hopoate try


Foran, Stewart and Hopoate combine against the Bulldogs

One of the biggest advantages Foran has over other receivers is that when he takes on the line he does so with speed and intent. This keeps defenders back on their heels and makes them vulnerable, allowing Kieran to make a decision based on their reaction.

What has also been evident in recent performances has been the emergence of former pet plays.
In round 9 against Canberra we saw Foran run a deliberate 45-degree angle to stretch the Raiders' defence close to their line. He then found Stewart back on the inside running the same line to slice through and score.

Stewart takes an inside ball from Foran to score

Then in round 12 they produced a spectacular ploy we have seen many times in the past.

With play moving towards the sideline, Foran aimed a banana-type kick back towards the posts knowing that Stewart would be steaming up the centre of the field in hot pursuit. With the fullback unable to fully regather it was Cherry-Evans who received a miracle pass to touch down.

Foran and Stewart set up a classic try for Cherry-Evans

It was again successful last weekend with co-skipper Jamie Lyon bobbing up to grab the bouncing ball to score.

Foran kicks infield for Jamie Lyon against the Bulldogs

Both of these planned moves were part of the Manly playbook involving Matt Orford when they made grand finals.

Speaking of number 7's, Daly Cherry-Evans is also really starting to blossom with his performance on Saturday night absolutely out of the top drawer.

After being content to play an understudy role in the opening two months he is now looking to run the football much more and looks keen to take on greater responsibility.

He is sharp off both feet and has scored a couple of purely individual tries over the past fortnight.

Against Brisbane he was able to stand up both Ben Hannant and Gerard Beale and then on Saturday night he took advantage of some slack defending from the Canterbury back-row to score untouched from the scrum-base.

Cherry-Evans does it all himself against the Broncos

The halfback goes all the way from a scrum against the 'Dogs

However in a consummate all-round performance in round 13, it was a kick in the final five minutes of the game that really caught my eye.

With his side leading by 34 and the game won, Cherry-Evans managed to put the ball in-goal from 30 metres out and into a position that made it impossible for Dean Halatau  to beat the kick-chasers and get back into the field of play.

In the context of that game it had little relevance to the result but for future reference it was superb in light of bigger games down the track with much tighter score-lines.

Still, one thing that has been clear in his short time in the top grade has been a capacity to come up with the right play under pressure.

There was no greater example than his effort in round 5 against Cronulla to kick a field-goal to make it 13-all, to seemingly send the game into extra-time.

With just 75 seconds left on the clock he received the ball only to find the Sharks defence rushing up on his right side. Ever so calmly he stepped back and slotted the one point with his left foot.  

Cherry-Evans coolly lands a field-goal against Cronulla

As it turned out Manly conjured the latest of tries to win in normal time.

With hooker Matt Ballin a Queensland Origin rep and Brett Stewart rapidly getting back to his best, the key positions for the Eagles are growing in stature.

The quartet may not yet be in the Slater-Cronk-Widdop-Smith or Boyd-Soward-Hornby-Young class yet, but they are well on the way.