Foran hungry for more left-side success
He has orchestrated Manly’s brilliant left-side attack this season and played a key role in their run of five straight wins, but five-eighth Kieran Foran is anticipating their toughest challenge of the year when the Sea Eagles host the Warriors at Gosford’s Bluetongue Stadium on Sunday.
Arguably the form team of the competition, Manly have overcome a mid-season slump in stunning fashion over the past month with dominant wins over Parramatta (twice), North Queensland, the Gold Coast and Wests Tigers.
Those results have come with a combined score of 198-68 – much of that down to Foran’s combination with Justin Horo, Steve Matai and Jorge Taufua on the left – but rarely have they faced what will come their way this weekend with giant centre Konrad Hurrell and the brilliant Shaun Johnson set to provide the ultimate test.
Ironically, Foran will team with both of them in the New Zealand national side at the World Cup in November and he is under no illusions as to what to expect on Sunday.
“They are very hard to coach against,” Foran told NRL.com ahead of the blockbuster.
“In Shaun’s case I suppose it all comes down to limiting their go-forward. If we do that he is playing off a slower play-the-ball and can’t find his rhythm. But it’s very hard to coach against a guy like Shaun who can make something happen out of nothing. You can do all the training during the week but then you leave half a gap and he slices through and hurts you.
“Then you’ve got Konrad who is a very explosive and powerful player. It will be a tough, hard battle there between he and Steve because they are both very damaging. Konrad is more of a straight runner who runs over people and Steve is more footwork, but I’m looking forward to seeing those two go at it.”
The key, says Foran, is for Manly’s left edge to simply focus on what they do best. Once overshadowed by the Sea Eagles’ always impressive right edge, the left has scored 35 tries this year compared to 34 on the right, with Foran admitting he has worked hard to increase his own involvement over the past month.
“I suppose as you come to the back-end of the season you start to think personally about where you need to be at in terms of form and what you need to be doing for the side,” he said.
“I’ve really tried to work on my combinations with players and make sure that I try to hit my straps as well as the side hitting theirs.
“We’re very fortunate to have two really classy sides (left and right) and I put a lot of that down to those two classy centres that we’ve got. We’re very fortunate to have two world-class centres on both edges that have got points.
“On our left side, we’ve really focused on getting as much ball as we can to Steve and Jorge Taufua because they are so potent. And everyone has seen what Justin Horo has been able to do since coming into the side. It’s really been working nicely for us. We’ve worked hard on it and it’s paid off with the amount of points we’ve been able to score.”
This week’s clash with the Warriors signals the start of the second block of games coach Geoff Toovey highlighted in the run home to the finals – the first having begun five weeks ago following an 18-12 loss to Sydney Roosters in Round 16.
That result consigned them to just one win from their previous six outings, but having achieved their goal of winning their next five games they have since consolidated that all-important top-four spot.
“We sat down and kind of felt that there was a good five-week block there to kind of get our season back on track and we achieved that goal which is pleasing,” Foran said.
“It’s been good too to score a few points in the process. That was one of the things we were lacking. We really felt that we weren’t scoring enough points and that’s why we were losing a lot of those games. We just felt that our attack was off and I think that has been the most pleasing thing these past five games is that we’ve scored close to 40 points every game. It’s given us a chance to find our combinations and our rhythms again and we’ll be looking to carry this form into the last five rounds of the comp.
“Having said that, we were probably expected to win those five games, which we did, and now we’re coming up against a side that is one of the form sides of the comp at the moment. They are going to throw everything at us and will push us right to the limit so this is another big test for us.”
Foran said that Manly still had plenty of room for improvement but was confident they were well placed to make a charge for a third premiership in six years.
“To be honest I think we’re still a fair way off where we need to be to challenge for the title,” he said. “I mean, I think the Roosters and Souths – definitely the Roosters are setting the benchmark and we’re not playing anywhere near their standard. But I’m confident in the group that we’ve got and the structures we’ve go in place that we can cement a top-four spot and from there I’m confident we can give it a good crack.”