Manly vow to bring the tough stuff
Manly front-rower Josh Starling has vowed that the toughness Sea Eagles teams have become renowned for over the past decade will be back on show against the Bulldogs on Friday night after a disappointing loss to the Broncos last Sunday.
The 26-point defeat was the side's biggest since they were trounced 40-12 by Melbourne in the 2012 Preliminary Final in a game where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
The surrender to the Broncos last week was more reminiscent of the 16-point defeat suffered at the hands of the Wests Tigers in Round 5 and Starling conceded that it was a worrying sign nearing the halfway point of the season.
The Sea Eagles were without Daly Cherry-Evans, Anthony Watmough and Glenn Stewart for the game against Brisbane but even with their stars missing Starling said it was an uncharacteristic Manly performance and one they are eager to rectify.
"We don't want that to happen ever again. There's a good reputation here and being a new guy as well you have to try and keep that going," Starling told NRL.com.
"It's more a standard of being tough. They've got a good reputation around the comp of being a tough forward pack and we do get reminded of it. We shouldn't have to be told but sometimes they have to kick us up the arse and remind us that this is a tough team and you've got to pull your weight otherwise you're not going to be playing.
"It was just one of those days. We had one of those against the Tigers but we've got to start cutting that stuff out because if you do it at the wrong end of the year it's going to cost you."
The Broncos made almost 400 more metres than the Sea Eagles on Sunday and a menacing Bulldogs forward pack chomping at the bit after a week off presents arguably the sternest forward test in the competition in 2014.
In terms of total metres from hit-ups thus far this season the Bulldogs are ranked No.1 in the competition with a total of 9007 metres while the Sea Eagles – who sit just two points behind Canterbury on the competition table – are last with a total of 5420 hit-up metres.
Bulldogs props Aiden Tolman (1549m) and James Graham (1447m) rank first and third respectively in the NRL for total hit-up metres through 12 rounds and Starling knows that with or without Watmough, the Sea Eagles big men have to make a stand.
"They've made a big statement this year saying that last year they were a bit down but this year they're back again and they're going to be a lot tougher this week so we've got to step it up again," said the 24-year-old of this week's opposition.
"They're making a lot of metres and bruising a lot of teams and just grinding teams into the ground with a lot of one-point wins and that comes a lot from their forward pack. Guys like James Graham and Aiden Tolman who just keep going forward and going forward and we have to find a way to stop that, especially with their big edges and the halves they have.
"We're pretty comfortable with our [defensive] spaces but we've just got to toughen up. We've just got to put our body on the line and get in front of those blokes and try and slow that ruck down a little bit so they can't get that roll."
Since making the move across to the northern beaches from South Sydney during the off-season Starling has appeared in all 11 games for the Sea Eagles in 2014 and is embracing the unofficial club motto of, 'Nobody likes us and we don't care.'
Starling's late grandfather Ron and father Kevin were both mad Rabbitohs fans so while his mother has quickly become a convert, winning over the old man is proving a more difficult task.
"Mum always follows wherever I go so she's a Manly fan," Starling said. "She doesn't have too much loyalty, only to me. Dad's getting there. He wants a [Manly] jersey now; I haven't seen him in a Souths hat for a while so he's getting there.
"My dad and my grandfather were Souths fans and they gave it to me when I was younger so I was happy to play for Souths but it's my job now so I can't really have a loyalty only for one club.
"[My grandfather] passed away just before I debuted so unfortunately he didn't get to see me play but he's always watching me I think.
"To stick by us there's plenty of suffering the fans have got to cop from people week in and week out at work. We love our fans and there at 'Brookie' we've got a group of fans who travel to every game as well.
"We didn't do them a big favour putting in this performance [against Brisbane] but we're definitely going to back it up at Brookie where we are trying to make it a fortress again."