Manly reaping the rewards at last
Manly Sea Eagles coach Trent Barrett has commended his players for their resilience during what has been an at times turbulent season.
Injuries have savaged the Sea Eagles in 2016 to the point where not one of their players have featured in all 18 games this year.
Despite the extensive injury toll – which led to Manly losing seven games in a row – the Sea Eagles find themselves just two wins outside the Telstra Premiership top eight after stringing together three consecutive victories.
The latest – a 20-12 win over the South Sydney Rabbitohs on Monday night – moves them up to 12th place on the ladder on 18 competition points with six rounds remaining.
In his first season as an NRL head coach, Barrett said the players' attitude was what had impressed him the most at a time when they could have easily kicked stones and complained about the tough hand they'd been dealt.
"I've said it all along that I couldn't be happier with the players," Barrett said after his side's third straight win.
"They've stuck together and they deserve the wins that they've had over the last month because the run of losses that we did have, we found out a lot about each other and we didn't have a weak person in the group.
"They're reaping the rewards for it now which is the most pleasing thing for me. I know I've got a football team there that cares about each other and cares about the result.
"I think it says a lot about them, and I never doubted that. I know it's always hard when you go through it – I'd rather them not – but you find out a lot about people when you got through some adverse times like that.
"I think we've had some real leaders emerge during that period, and we just need to keep getting better. We can get better; we just need to keep working hard."
Given their tough start to the season, it's amazing to think that the Sea Eagles are now just four points outside the top eight with games against the bottom-placed Newcastle Knights and injury-ravaged Parramatta Eels to come.
They were far from perfect against the Rabbitohs, especially in the second half, but that didn't stop Barrett from leaving Allianz Stadium a happy man.
"The last month they've been terrific and tonight was an extremely important two points for us," the Sea Eagles coach said.
"I thought our first half tonight was really good again. The second half was a bit of a scrappy sort of affair but we defended our try line when we needed to.
"I thought the side showed a lot of grit and hung in there and got a really important win because they're a good side and they're hard to handle when they're attacking your try line.
"We still have some work to do, so we can't be looking at the table. We've got a game at Brookvale next week against a side that's rapidly improving, in Newcastle, and we're going to have to be really good again."
Sea Eagles backrower Jamie Buhrer told NRL.com that he wasn't thinking about anything expect for this weekend's game against the Knights, who he believes have the talent to challenge Manly.
"The teams we're playing over the next couple of weeks have nothing to lose," he said.
"Newcastle have got a lot of good, young players that are looking to make a name for themselves, so we can't clock off against them.
"Speaking to a few boys in there, it's amazing what a few wins can do to a dressing room.
"Everyone's bouncing around in there and they're excited, and so we should be. We've worked really hard to get here, but we've got a lot of hard work left to do because we're still looking to play finals footy."