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Monday Halfback: Are Manly the real deal?

Are Manly the real deal? 

We still don't know after a dramatic extra-time clash at Lottoland, but they have a golden chance to move into the NRL Telstra Premiership top four in the coming weeks. 

The one thing you can take to the bank is a universal truth; the ladder doesn't lie. 

Manly raced to a 20-6 lead in the first half against Canberra, fuelled by the brilliance of Daly Cherry-Evans and the destructive power of enforcer Martin Taupau. 

At times they were an unstoppable juggernaut, but as they have so often in 2017, the Sea Eagles struggled to find consistency over 80 minutes and it almost burnt them. 

It is a frailty that is currently holding them back from being a genuine premiership contender. 

"Six weeks ago we would have lost that," coach Trent 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"

The clash between the Sea Eagles and Raiders revealed a lot about both football teams. 

Manly continue to play an exciting and inspired brand of rugby league few critics thought possible, their brittle defence of 2016 has largely been put to bed, however there have been untimely relapses that show Trent Barrett's men still have a long way to go. 

They are a good side, but their inconsistency across 80 minutes means they are still short of the top echelon of the competition.

The echoes of last season - where they conceded the fourth most tries and fifth most missed tackles - refuse to completely go away. 

There was the Round 2 capitulation to the Rabbitohs, a Round 6 humbling by the high flying Dragons, they conceded 30 first-half points in a crazy game against the Storm at home, while they also let a 14-point lead against the Broncos slip at Suncorp Stadium. 

The wounds of last season are not completely healed. 

As dominant as the Sea Eagles were in the first half against Canberra, they never looked truly comfortable with their 14-point lead. 

The Sea Eagles will take great heart from the fact they managed to hold on. 

With the game on the line, two of Manly's best stood up to ice the contest. 

Cherry-Evans led his team expertly all afternoon setting up tries and scoring them himself in the first half, but more importantly, he found ways to wrestle back momentum in the second half when it looked like the Raiders would come over the top. 

It was a complete performance punctuated by a game-winning field goal. 

The field goal came off the back of another Taupau charge, the Manly enforcer has found a level of consistency in his game that has eluded him for the most part of his career. But that consistency has been found on the Northern Beaches where he continues to be one of the Sea Eagles most influential players. 

Against the Raiders, Taupau carried his side with 217 metres, seven tackle breaks and five offloads. His last run in extra-time was every bit as good as his first as Cherry-Evans used the platform to snap the game-winning field goal.

Time will tell if the Sea Eagles are as good as their lofty position on the ladder, but with a game against the Knights and a bye coming up, they could easily be in the top four in the coming weeks.

"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. 

"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'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."

The ladder doesn't lie. 

Raiders running out of time

This is a Green Machine who haven't been able to hit the heights or expectations of last season. They look like a premiership heavyweight fighting themselves as much as their opposition. 

For whatever reason, the Raiders just haven't been able to hit the next gear we all know is there. If they don't find it soon the 2017 season will be a massive wasted opportunity. 

The Raiders have lost three golden point games in 2017, two to Manly and one to the Cowboys in Round 1. They also lost by one point to the Broncos. In a competition as close as the NRL Telstra Premiership, they could be season-defining defeats. 

In this competition, close enough is not good enough. No one knows it better than Ricky Stuart. 

Against Manly, the Raiders refused to go away and showed glimpses of their best to somehow come from behind and level the scores after the full-time siren despite being largely outplayed for much of the afternoon. 

It spoke a lot about the attitude of the Green Machine.

Jordan Rapana – who has established himself as the premier winger in the game after an incredible 18 months of football – is just about the hardest man to tackle and almost single-handedly got his team back into the contest. With unbelievable balance and upper body strength that defies his size, Rapana terrorised the manly defence. He finds ways to get involved in the game, you simply can't keep him out of the action.

The Raiders flyer bagged a double to reclaim his place on top of the try-scoring tally in 2017, running 254 metres and making six tackle breaks to tear the Sea Eagles apart.

But it just wasn't enough as Manly steadied to claim a crucial golden point victory. 

There is still time for Canberra to find the consistency and form that had them just one game away from last year's Grand Final, but it is quickly running out. They have been far from their best and yet still sit just two points outside of the top eight. 

Canberra will feel like the clash with Manly was another missed opportunity. 

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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