Stewart behind Manly revival: Foran
Manly five-eighth Kieran Foran has credited fullback Brett Stewart for the Sea Eagles' mid-season resurgence, describing him as the best ball-playing fullback in the game today.
As the likes of Greg Inglis, Billy Slater, Josh Dugan and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck are lauded week after week for their exploits at the back for their respective teams, Foran said that Stewart's ability to create and score tries sets him apart from the rest.
Man of the Match for a performance on the Gold Coast in which he scored a try, laid on two others for winger Jorge Taufua, made two line breaks and a game-high eight tackle busts, Stewart showed again what a class player he is at his best.
He has now scored 10 tries in nine games against the Titans but it was his positional play defensively on Monday night that will receive none of the acclaim but which was equally as important.
"'Snake' is just a brilliant footballer all round," Foran said after the game. "He's someone who is like a second pair of eyes for myself and Daly [Cherry-Evans] out there. He can just see so much at the back and I've said it before and I'll say it again, in my opinion he is the best ball-playing fullback there is in the game.
"No one sums up those clutch situations the way Snake does and he just seems to come up with the right play every time and it's just so crucial for our attack and the way we play.
"If he can keep producing those performances we'll give ourselves every chance of making a charge for the finals."
Going into Round 18 with statistically the worst attack in the NRL, Manly made it three wins from their past four games at an average of 26 points per game to move past the Dragons and Panthers in the point-scoring stakes.
No member of the Sea Eagles' backline on Monday night has appeared in every game this season with Foran playing his 11th game and skipper Jamie Lyon his 10th.
With 11 tries in 14 games Stewart has been one of the more consistent performers in a malfunctioning attacking unit that Foran hopes is now reaping the rewards of some hard work on the training paddock.
"It's something we were mindful of," Foran said of their attacking record this year. "It's just been one of those years. Obviously we didn't get off to the start we would have liked and had a lot of injuries so you don't get that continuity on the field.
"You're switching and swapping combinations all the time and I think for the last three or four weeks we've been able to put the same side on the park which allows you to build those combinations at training and I think it's showing out on the field.
"I know myself, me and Matty Ballin, 'Cherry' and 'Snake', the four of us have all got to be on the same page and that's something that we've been working really hard on over the last month and I think it's helped.
"Snake's been playing some really good footy and that's helped some of the combinations out."
Still within reach of the top eight despite winning just one of their first seven games of the season, Foran conceded that the big question at the moment is whether the most dominant team of the past decade is back to the type of form capable of challenging the best teams of 2015.
"That's the tough question and the one we'll find out playing these sides," said Foran, who turned 25 on Monday night. "I don't think our performance [against the Titans] would be good enough to beat the better sides at the moment. We still turned over a fair bit of footy so we'll have to be better against the Cowboys next Monday night.
"They're a quality side sitting up the top so we'll have to go up another level next week.
"We won't get away with that in these next games. We're coming up against some really quality sides so we'll go back to the drawing board this week and look at where we can improve and hopefully keep the wins coming.
"We knew that tonight was a really important in for us to stay within reach. We've spoken about the fact that we can't afford to drop too many, we are aware of the position we're in but we're not getting too far ahead of ourselves.
"We want to keep trying to notch the wins and if we keep notching the wins then we're giving ourselves every chance of making a late run for the finals."