Desperate to prove his fitness for Saturday’s clash with the Gold Coast after missing last week’s win over Brisbane with a shoulder injury, Manly co-captain Jason King says the pain of missing the side’s 2011 premiership success is driving him to play a key role in this year’s finals series.
King was cruelly ruled out for the season after tearing his pectoral muscle in Round 22 last year, the giant prop forced to watch on from the sidelines as the Sea Eagles stormed their way through the finals before downing the Warriors 24-10 in the grand final.
But after being named to make his comeback against the Titans this week, King said he was determined to make amends for his absence 12 months ago.
“It was disappointing last year,” he said. “I missed playing at this time of year with my mates and achieving the success that they achieved. It was still a really exciting time to be around the squad and the boys were really good about it but I wouldn’t want to miss out again.
“Having said that, I try not to dwell on it – I don’t think I’ll get too much benefit from thinking about it all the time.
“Obviously I’ve got a driving desire to win the competition this year and that’s definitely my long-term goal but it’s a new year and I’m just doing everything I can to prepare myself for my individual performance.
“I’m doing all I can to get back out there and play some good footy with my team-mates.”
King was last night named in the starting side for Saturday’s trip to the Gold Coast although he faces a fitness test tomorrow before he is given the all-clear to make his return.
Given Manly’s recent form, it’s no surprise he is desperate to get back out onto the footy field.
The reigning premiers have endured a tough year at times with the shock departure of former coach Des Hasler in the off-season and disruptive contract negotiations with half a dozen of their biggest names playing havoc with their on-field form.
But they have hit their straps at the right time, with King keen to keep the momentum going.
“I always thought it would take us a while,” he said. “We’ve worked very hard throughout the year analysing our performance but we knew if we put in the hard work and the detail with our approach that things would turn and we’d start to string some games together.
“That’s a credit to the coaching staff as well. We’ve all turned the corner and have started to gain some momentum and string some games together.”
Asked of his own input as a leader had increased since Geoff Toovey took over the coaching reins from Hasler, King said: “It’s not something I really thought about but I’m always trying to offer what I can. I think it’s just been a case of working with the other senior guys in the group and then offering my opinions. We look at game plans and approaches to games and that sort of thing.”
King pointed to Manly’s senior playing group – which consists of he and fellow captain Jamie Lyon, Anthony Watmough, Brent Kite and the Stewart brothers – as unique amongst the 16 NRL clubs with the quartet having now been together for six seasons (eight if you don’t include Lyon).
While Hasler also enjoyed a close relationship with his players, their input has increased significantly and they now act as the main conduit between Toovey and the younger players in the squad.
“We’re pretty democratic and that’s probably how I’d describe myself as a captain as well,” he said. “We’ve got a really good senior playing group and I’m always willing to listen to those guys. There is an enormous amount of experience there so we come up with decisions that are the best for the team.
“My role is to offer whatever I can off the field to make sure everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goal. Out on the field it’s just showing some leadership and leading by example.
“But we’re fortunate to have been together for so long now – it’s pretty easy to be a leader when so many guys are there to help you. Being co-captain as well, there is always somebody to bounce ideas off as well as bouncing ideas off all the senior playing group.”
Manly will start warm favourites to make it six wins in a row leading into the finals when they face the Titans; but while their finals berth is assured, a top-four spot certainly isn’t.
King said it was vital that the Sea Eagles didn’t open the door for North Queensland, who travel to Cronulla on Sunday, to leapfrog them on the NRL ladder.
“It’s a must-win game for us because it’s pretty tight everywhere,” he said. “It’s very important that we play well and win to put ourselves in good stead for the finals.
“We can’t afford to get carried away with anything. We’re focusing on playing the Titans this weekend and then once that game is over we can focus on the finals series. The guys have been pretty happy with how we’ve been going but there are definitely areas we can improve.”