Injuries cruelling Manly's title tilt
Sea Eagles fullback Brett Stewart is the latest injury headache for Geoff Toovey with the Manly coach conceding that the healthiest roster heading into the finals next week is likely to be the team to beat.
Stewart was an unexpected withdrawal on the morning of Saturday night's 30-16 loss to North Queensland in Townsville having rolled his ankle at the Sea Eagles' final training run on Friday afternoon. He joined hooker Matt Ballin (fractured leg) and back-rower Jamie Buhrer (knee) on the sidelines while Brenton Lawrence also failed to take his place in the side.
Toovey refused to use the injury disruptions as an excuse for his side's lacklustre performance but said that ahead of a clash with the Rabbitohs – likely to be next Saturday night at Allianz Stadium – not having his full complement available is far from ideal at this stage of the season.
Cowboys coach Paul Green admitted that the Sea Eagles were a less dangerous prospect without Stewart's influence in the backline and is a concern for Toovey with the lure of a week off less than seven days away.
"On their day anyone can beat anybody, you've really got to turn up and put your best game on the paddock," Toovey said of the finals combatants.
"Those teams that can get their best players out on the field probably have a bit more of a chance but even then you need to turn up with the right mindset otherwise you're not going to win.
"The intensity will be much higher [in the finals]. Both teams particularly in the top four will be vying for that week off, which is important. We had a pretty tough game last year against the Roosters, it was 4-0 I think, and it took its toll the next week and then we had to back up for the Grand Final.
"That week off is quite an advantage."
Although they let slip an opportunity to win the club's first minor premiership since 1997, Toovey believes a week is plenty of time to get his players' minds back on the job after another night of poor completions.
Uncharacteristic errors saw the Sea Eagles complete 24 of their 31 total sets from 43 per cent of possession and Toovey admitted that it has become a worrying trend that has crept into their game.
"It was more than disappointing. Not so much the loss but to play so poorly was particularly bad," said Toovey.
"We had 53 per cent completions in the first half and we've been doing that for the last weeks now and it's just not good enough. Simple errors; you can't win without the ball.
"It's a mind thing, it's not something that you can train for, it's a mindset. We've just got to be individually and collectively be better. We're dropping the ball, kicking the ball out on the full, just making poor choices at times."
Captain Jamie Lyon said there was no sense of any complacency in the side's preparation for the clash with the Cowboys but that they were being let down by poor decision making in games.
"We just played poorly tonight. We kept dropping the ball and our defence wasn't good enough and they're a quality side and on their home track they were definitely hard to play against," Lyon said. "We've got to be a lot better than what we dished up tonight.
"Training's been fine and we've had good preparation we've just got to come up with better decisions with the ball. We kept dropping it and tried to offload and our defence wasn't up to scratch."