Happy Manly leave dramas behind
Manly players say not only is the squad a happy place despite some recent off-field dramas but with the team back in form they are looking to back up last week's big win over Brisbane with a similar effort against another tough opponent in South Sydney.
If the Sea Eagles win all their remaining games they are assured of playing finals footy, while four wins and a loss would leave them at the mercy of other results and points differential; two losses would end their season.
With the squad having already come through a tough month with wins away from Brookvale against the Warriors in Auckland and the Broncos at Gosford last week, halfback Daly Cherry-Evans said it wouldn't get much easier with upcoming matches against Souths this week and the Roosters in Round 25.
"We've got an extremely difficult run home. We've played some quality opposition over the past month so hopefully we're well prepared for this Friday night. It's just a matter of piecing it all together and playing some good football," Cherry-Evans said.
He insisted that despite year-long contract dramas surrounding himself and Kieran Foran and the eventual sacking of coach Geoff Toovey, Manly's recent form spike was purely a coincidence.
"I think it's just been a lot of hard work on the training paddock over the course of the year and a bit of continuity amongst the team," he said.
"I think it's just a coincidence that we've just found form off the back of hard work more than anything."
His halves partner Foran, who has missed a chunk of the season with hamstring injuries, was one of the team's best last week and Cherry-Evans was quick to praise the Parramatta-bound pivot.
"We never underestimate how important Kieran's been to this side this whole season. You only have to see how hard he works in the gym behind the scenes to see that this is no coincidence, his good form, it's from the back of hard work," he said.
Winger Jorge Taufua was hopeful powerful centre Steve Matai would return from a concussion layoff to once again rattle the ribs of Souths big man Dave Tyrrell.
"I think Stevie will be back this week. It will be good for our left edge to get him back and hopefully he can pull off one of those hits to lift us," Taufua said.
Taufua is another whose personal form has improved of late, looking more assured under the high ball, which he attributed to an attitude improvement and hard work at training.
"I guess it's just an attitude thing and working hard on the training paddock. With my teammates playing well as they are it makes it easier for myself, that attitude and confidence sort of rubs off on me out there," he said.
Hooker Matt Ballin was also hopeful the side's improved form against Brisbane could continue against the Rabbitohs.
"Without getting too far ahead of ourselves we're training hard and playing well. Souths will be another massive test for us this Friday and it's at home at Brookvale Oval so we're excited about coming back and playing in front of a big crowd of our own supporters," Ballin said.
"The last five weeks has been a really positive improvement. [Against the] Cowboys, we didn't play very well [in a 30-12 loss at Brookvale in Round 19] but four of the five other games we won. It's been a really big step in the right direction. We're enjoying our footy, we're smiling out on the field, we're happy and enjoying the moment."
Prop Willie Mason said the Brisbane win was something of a turning point.
"Last week was a massive step. Even the week before going over to New Zealand and getting the two points over there was huge for us, then we wanted to consolidate that because that would have meant nothing if we turned up against Brisbane and didn't perform," Mason said.
"We're not getting carried away. Brisbane were a bit out of it, a bit down, and we pounced on that and ended up getting a win. It'll be different on Friday night."
Mason said facing South Sydney at Brookvale on a Friday night would be something to look forward to.
"Everything's all behind us now and it seems to be all clicking. To get everybody playing well at this time of the year, little injury patterns here and there, we got some key players back and everyone's playing well."