Depth brings out best in Manly forwards
Manly prop Josh Starling believes the acquisition of representative forwards Martin Taupau and Nate Myles challenged the rest of the Sea Eagles pack to think about how they approached the game.
The arrival of the international pair in the off-season put pressure on the current crop of Manly forwards to fight for their places in the side, and Starling says that inspired him to lift his own game.
The Sea Eagles big man is averaging just shy of 78 metres and 24 tackles per game in 2016, and scored his first NRL try on the weekend against the Warriors.
"I thought about that – me and 'BJ' [Brenton Lawrence] talked about that as well – because we've been here for a couple of years. It's definitely something we needed," the 25-year-old said.
"We needed some more depth in the forwards and they got some great players. I guess it just lit a fire under us that we had to have a big pre-season and start all over again.
"I feel more comfortable and I feel like after two years I deserve my spot to be an NRL player. It's been a long road but I've just got to believe in myself and my ability to do what I do.
"I've just got to stay on top of my game and just keep doing what I'm doing."
Starling says the injection of new blood in the forwards brought a winning culture to the club, with players fully aware that the coaching staff would not tolerate anything but perfection.
"I guess it's just the competitiveness at training. They don't have to say anything, you've just got to work with each other and work hard against each other at training," he said.
"We're lucky here that we can train against some of the better forwards in the competition and that helps lift our game because we're tackling them all the time and running against them and running plays against them.
"We had a lot of injuries and stuff last year, which didn’t help. We got rolled [through the middle] a lot which showed through losing so many games in a row last year.
"But that's something that the new coaches addressed when they got here and worked on our strength and tackling, and we did a lot of work on defence in the off-season.
"We've got a lot of depth here and a lot of good players that are playing reserve grade at the moment, so if you're not firing every week, you don't want to give the coaches any excuse to not play you."
One Sea Eagle who knows all about the threat of reserve grade is Darcy Lussick.
"I got dropped after Round 1 for two games so I'm well aware that we've got to perform otherwise there are people there waiting to take your spot. If you're in the team then the pressure is on you to perform otherwise you're gone," Lussick said.
"It's given everyone a bit of confidence playing with those kinds of players. Marty has been great for us and Nate's been great for us. They've taken a bit of a leadership role and everyone's trying to get on board with them."
Lussick conceded the Sea Eagles' forwards were yet to hit their straps, but believes Thursday night's grudge match against his former side the Eels will be the perfect opportunity to stand up against a quality pack.
"So far it's [the performance of Manly's forwards] probably just a pass at the moment so we're looking to have a big one on Thursday," he said.
"They've got a good forward pack this year so we know it's going to be physical. We have to start strong like we did on the weekend, because if we let them get on top of us then that won't be ideal.
"There's been a lot written about both our forward packs this year so it'll probably be a good spectacle for the fans and everyone on Thursday."