Sea Eagles continue to prove the doubters wrong
After a disappointing 2016 campaign that saw them finish last season in 13th spot on the Telstra Premiership ladder, few pundits gave the Sea Eagles a realistic chance of doing much damage in 2017.
How wrong we were.
Trent Barrett's men sit in sixth spot – just a win outside the top four – midway through the season and are playing the sort of footy that few saw coming.
It's a remarkable position they find themselves in given they started the year with back-to-back losses before they turned things around with a season-defending win in North Queensland.
They've had their ups and downs since then – namely Tom Trbojevic's knee and ankle woes – but have fought on valiantly to notch consecutive wins without their star fullback.
Written off by many, the Sea Eagles face the bottom-ranked Knights before the Round 15 bye and are a genuine chance of moving into the highly-coveted top four in the coming weeks.
Sunday's 21-20 win over the Raiders at Lottoland might have been a shock to some, but according to their coach, the golden point thriller was par for the course in 2017.
"I always knew we had a good side; I just knew that we had to work really hard to get there," Barrett said.
"We can use it as motivation that no one gave us hope, and probably still don't. I think there are a lot of people still waiting for us to fall over, but I can't control that.
"What I can control is how they prepare, they train hard each day and they're good blokes. They enjoy being around each other so it's pretty easy to coach them when they turn up each day wanting to work hard for each other.
"I'm happy with where we're at but I know there's a long, long way to go. We're learning something every week with the team that we've got. We got put in positions today that are going to help us improve again.
"We've got a short turnaround this week so we've got to back it up next week against Newcastle. We go Newcastle and then the bye so it's massive game on Friday."
The Sea Eagles looked set for a huge win courtesy of a commanding 20-6 half-time lead, but as they recently found out against the Broncos, 14-point buffers mean very little in the modern game.
Canberra scored 14-unanswered points in the second half only for Daly Cherry-Evans to win it for Manly with a clutch one-pointer in the first period of extra-time.
"Six weeks ago we would have lost that, so I think the team is coming along nicely. I think it was just a really gutsy effort from our blokes and it was a very valuable two points for us," Barrett said.
"You're not going to be fresh and firing and doing everything beautiful every weekend, but to still find a way to win when we weren't at our best…you need that quality in a team and we found it tonight.
"We're pretty inexperienced as a team. A lot of our blokes haven't played in those games so the more games like that we play in and learn from, the better we're going to get."
While it wasn't the for and against boost they would have loved, Cherry-Evans was proud of the way his side responded to Canberra's second-half onslaught.
"The most pleasing thing – apart from the fact that we got the win – was that I felt like we learnt from mistakes from previous weeks earlier in the season," he said.
"We have lost games like that before – most recently the Brisbane game – so it's pleasing to learn from that and to be able to, no matter what circumstances, come away with what's necessary.
"We knew they were a great side and we spoke about it all week. They have threats across the field; Jordan Rapana was nearly the best player on the field, if not the best player on the field. He's an amazing talent and he can change the game very quickly.
"That's the sort of side they are; they have individual brilliance and they were able to keep on fighting. They might not be high on the ladder but they are certainly a good side."