Manly's humbled edge had a point to prove
Manly's left-edge defence was a virtual laughing stock when it was torn to shreds by Melbourne two weeks ago but you wouldn't have known it last week when the unheralded combination shut down the most potent right side attack in the NRL.
Journeyman back-rower Frank Winterstein is the main defender in a flank that also includes rookie centre Brian Kelly, new five-eighth Blake Green and veteran winger Jorge Taufua.
The four-man combination has had some missteps, none worse than a dire opening 40 minutes against the Storm at Lottoland in Round 7 when all six of Melbourne's first-half tries were put past a ragged Manly left edge. Only one of those six came from a kick, the rest involved Storm players running through gaps, including back-rower Felise Kaufusi strolling over for his first and second tries of the year in embarrassingly easy fashion.
Plenty of pundits were tipping the even more lethal Raiders right edge to have a field day the following week but Winterstein and co kept the likes of Joey Leilua, Jordan Rapana and Elliott Whitehead to their quietest game of the year in a shock 20-18 golden point win.
"As a four-man unit we wanted to really bounce back and there's no better test than playing against the best," Winterstein told NRL.com.
"Rapana and Leilua have been destroying teams as a two-man band. We were pretty happy we got away with the win and kept them quiet. As a left edge we just need to keep that consistency and keep that standard because we don't really want to take a backwards step anymore."
Winterstein said the left-edge combination had some lofty shoes to fill given the stars who have filled those spots for Manly in recent years.
"You look at Manly's left edge from a couple of years back it was a killer left edge with [Kieran] Foran and Steve Matai," he said.
"As a four-man combo we're definitely improving every week. We were disappointed last week against the Storm, we went away from that game pretty gutted with our defensive efforts and just our defensive reads in general.
"We really made it a [focus] last week against Canberra to really improve ourselves and probably get our confidence back up and back ourselves because when we do work together as a four-man combo we're pretty deadly."
Of his own form, Winterstein was glad to be building on his involvement as the season has progressed.
"For the first two rounds we had to tinker with our attacking game plan and try and involve myself and [right side back-rower] Curtis Sironen a lot more," Winterstein said.
"We felt we were missing a couple of opportunities there coming out of yardage and in good ball we weren't getting used as much. We know our strongest point is our running game, both of us. The more times we get the ball in our hands the team goes better."