We’ve heard it time and time again. Take players X and Y out of Team Z and watch them fall apart faster than a downtown Tokyo skyscraper when Godzilla chucks a wobbly.
By all rights Manly should have folded like a pack of cards against the Roosters. Crumbled like a week-old arrowroot biscuit.
Reduced to 16 men for over an hour when Glenn Stewart was given a one-way, all expenses paid trip to Disneyland courtesy of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves’s right shoulder. Lesser sides in the NRL would’ve have picked up their bat and ball and headed for home against the premiers.
Brother Brett, he of 136-career try fame, he who hasn’t played since halftime in round 1, drove the groggy Clive Churchill medallist home. The younger Stewart had earlier been sitting in the stands alongside gun winger Jorge Taufua, who scored the equal most tries in the competition last year, who is yet to lace a boot in anger this season.
Former Rooster Tom Symonds should have been right there next to them, but the Northern beaches' favourite ginger ninja since Paul Vautin was an eleventh hour call-up for James Hasson, the reserve prop taken ill with fever just an hour before kick-off.
Manly’s left side looked like extras in cable TV’s The Walking Dead, such was the discomfort centre Steve Matai (corked thigh) and five-eighth Kieran Foran (recurring calf injury) appeared to be in.
Yep, Manly were without X, Y and had a few more members of the alphabet either sitting on the sidelines or on their last legs.
And yet they got the chocolates, and held the competition’s most potent attacking side to nought, a feat that hasn’t been achieved in two years.
Yes they’ve got one of the best rosters in the comp. Yes they had 56% of possession. And yes the whistle blew 11-2 in their favour. But this Sea Eagles side has time and again aimed up when more than a reasonable number of chips were down and come out on top.
Talk about tougher than a boarding house steak.
Just don’t expect coach Geoff Toovey to be dining out on the 8-nil victory over the reigning premiers, which sits alongside their Round 2 stonewalling of fellow heavyweights South Sydney as the gutsiest performances of the year so far.
“It does [show a lot about our character] but you don’t want to rely on that every week, it’ll wear you down eventually,” said Toovey, whose team now sits on a 3-1 record after a month of football.
“Losing Glenn so early in the match, when you’re down to three replacements is always difficult, but that’s what makes it so pleasing – the result, and the effort the players put in.”
Toovey, one of the toughest to pull on the famous maroon and white, was quick to direct the praise for his side’s shutout.
“I thought physically our forwards did a fantastic job, they really worked hard.
“They defended soundly for each other. They were very effective. We had a lot of ball in the first half, which helped, but I thought they were great.”
Identified as one of the club’s few weaknesses before the season started, Toovey said his new front-row rotation of Brenton Lawrence, Josh Starling, Dunamis Lui and Jesse Sene-Lefao had performed above expectations in the early rounds.
“They’re doing a really good job. They’re taking a lot of pressure away from those injuries, particularly with losing experienced players and Richie Fa’aoso so late before the comp started.
“They’re doing a great job.”
Foran, who finished the match with barely a leg to stand on when his left pin started to cramp up alongside its underdone counterpart, said the Sea Eagles’ unheralded big men were the difference in the win.
“I think the guys that have come in are just doing an enormous job for us. Look at some of our forwards that don’t really get the headlines," he said.
“Guys like Sene-Lefao, Starling, Lui, they’re just tough.
“They’re doing a job for us every week and Choccy’s (Anthony Watmough) leading the forward pack and he’s bringing those young guys into that sort of tough environment and they’re learning from him and Jason King and guys like that.
“They’re what are winning us games at the moment.”