Top spot a minor Manly matter
They returned to the top spot on the ladder with an unconvincing 15-12 win over a gritty Gold Coast outfit but Manly coach Geoff Toovey says the incentive is not currently in place to make the minor premiership a major priority.
For merely turning up to the Auckland Nines in February teams received a greater share of prize money ($110,000) than the team that outlasts all others over 26 rounds in what Toovey calls the toughest sporting competition in the world. Rubbing salt into the wounds of a team such as Manly is that topping the table at season's end doesn't even secure them a Week One Qualifying Final on their home turf, Brookvale Oval.
With Brookvale not deemed worthy of hosting the game's showpiece events, a top two finish makes little difference to the Sea Eagles – apart from the cheque for $100,000 – and Toovey believes greater recognition of such an achievement is warranted.
"Personally, myself, yes [there should be a greater reward] but it's not up to me. It is a pretty hard thing to achieve," Toovey said of topping the NRL regular season.
"Twenty-six weeks of blokes bashing themselves up, it's just impressive that these guys run out onto the field and put in so much effort every week, it doesn't matter if it's us or the Titans.
"You lose some key players here and there, that always deflates you but you look at how tight the competition has been all this year. Up until a few weeks ago, you lose two games and you're out of the eight.
"That goes to show how tight the competition is and goes back to what I was saying about it being one of the toughest competitions in any sport in the world because of that 26 weeks, the grind, the mental application... you've got to turn up otherwise you're in trouble.
"It's a great achievement, whoever gets it, it's something to hang your hat on. A lot of competitions around the world, if you do that you get to hold up the trophy but it's still way off for us and we're not worried about that. We're not worried about that at all."
Sea Eagles forward Justin Horo echoed his coach's sentiments, pointing to a top-four finish as the primary concern heading into Manly's 10th consecutive finals campaign.
"I think you've got to finish in the top four, that's been the focus all year," Horo told NRL.com.
"One or two spot would be nice but I don't even know if we get that 'Brookie' home final as well so to be honest, you just want to finish in the top four, put in a good performance for that first week and hopefully give yourself a week off.
"We're in that position now so if we get the minor premiership as well then that's nice but at the end of the day, if we get the minor premiership and we don't win the Grand Final then no one is going to care about it."
In the second of a three-year deal at the Sea Eagles, the former Eels back-rower started in last year's gruelling and captivating Qualifying Final against the Roosters and he believes that earning the week off paved the way for the Bondi boys to finish with premiership glory.
"You get to the finals and you get a crack at it. First final you rip in and have a dig just like the Roosters did last year," said Horo. "We had a really gruelling game and it probably helped the Roosters in the long run.
"They had a really tough hit-out against us and got the week off and in the Grand Final we probably ran out of legs and they kept on coming at us.
"You've got to earn that in the first week of finals and we'll be trying to do that if we get a shot."
Although Sunday's win was hardly the Sea Eagles' most polished display of the season, their premiership prospects are set to receive a further boost in coming weeks with Steve Matai tipped to return from a shoulder injury against Parramatta on Friday night while Glenn Stewart is a chance to make his return for Manly's final home game of the season in Round 25.
Captain Jamie Lyon was placed on report for a high shot on Greg Bird in the eighth minute but seemed confident after the game that his good record would hold him in good stead with the match review committee.