If Manly coach Geoff Toovey thought his team couldn’t improve on what they had done during their current run of just two wins from eight games, then he would be tearing his hair out.
Make no mistake, Toovey isn’t happy with the way things have gone recently, but the point he makes is that the problem isn’t that big and can be easily fixed.
Starting on Monday night, Sea Eagles fans will hope, with the game against traditional rivals Parramatta at Brookvale Oval.
Manly began the season strongly, with five wins from their first six games, but since then they’ve lost to South Sydney (20-12), beaten St George Illawarra (24-18), lost to Sydney Roosters (16-4), drawn with Melbourne (10-10), beaten Canberra (16-10), lost to the Warriors (18-16), lost to Canterbury (32-30) and gone down to the Roosters for a second time (18-12).
As a run of results, it doesn’t look good, but, as Toovey says, the Sea Eagles have remained competitive against some of the best teams in the competition and taken several of those games that they didn’t win right down to the wire.
They have shown plenty of character, too, playing 10 minutes of extra time in one of the games of the season against the Storm and then backing up five days later to beat the Raiders, and coming from well behind to force extra time against the Bulldogs before going down.
Unfortunately for Manly, though, the losses have threatened what had previously been a comfortable place in the top four for them.
Entering Round 17 they were still in fourth place, on 19 points, but had fallen four points behind third-placed Melbourne and were just one point ahead of each of the three teams in fifth to seventh place and three points ahead of the four teams from eighth to 11th.
That congestion is a bit too close for comfort to an area the Sea Eagles don’t want to be in, and Toovey knows it is time to start putting a few wins together. Indeed, Cronulla’s win over the Wests Tigers on Friday saw the Sharks leapfrog their northern beaches counterparts into fourth position on the ladder, meaning Manly must defeat the Eels if they are regain their grip on the premiership’s elite zone.
So what is the problem with the team that is one of the competition’s glamour sides?
“We’ve always been in the game during our recent run,” Toovey tells NRL.com. “We’ve lost by two points a couple of times, six points, we’ve had a draw – we’ve been in every game we’ve played in recently. So it’s not that we aren’t playing good football.
“The problem is that we’ve just been a fraction off the pace at times, and our execution and decision-making have been off at times as well, and you just can’t do that in this competition.
“There’s no big, dramatic problem. The effort is there, we just have to be a bit better at everything we do. We’ve played some pretty good teams during that recent period, and you’re not going to beat them if you’re just a bit off.
“We’ve played really well at times. The draw against Melbourne was a great game, but the good football that we’ve played hasn’t shown up on the competition table because we haven’t been playing quite well enough over 80 minutes to get the points. And that’s the frustrating thing.
“It’s up to everyone to lift in the key areas and we can get back to where we were again, in terms of our performance and our results.”
Manly’s star fullback, Brett Stewart, missed six games through injury during that recent run, returning for the last-round game against the Roosters, but Toovey refused to use his absence as an excuse.
“Everyone likes to have their best players on the field, but most sides are missing key players at this time of the year,” he said. “It’s great to have Brett back, but his being out was no excuse.
“It will take him a couple of games to get back into the swing of things with his overall game, but defensively he was excellent against the Roosters.”
Toovey, having played for Manly and Northern Eagles in many tough games against Parramatta during his great career from 1988-2001, is always wary of the Eels – no matter where they may sit on the competition table.
Right now, the Eels are in last place on 10 points, with just three wins and 11 losses. But, typically, despite having struggled in recent years, they have still managed the odd win against the Sea Eagles and it is three wins apiece in the past six clashes.
“It’s always a dangerous game against them – everyone at Manly is aware of that,” Toovey said. “We’ve had great difficulty against them in the past. There are still plenty of good players in their side and they’ve named Jarryd Hayne to come back in this game.
“We have to be ready for a very competitive game.”