Manly's rise no surprise: DCE
They have been the surprise packets of the 2017 Telstra Premiership season, but Sea Eagles skipper Daly Cherry-Evans says his side's ladder position comes as no shock to anyone at the club.
The Sea Eagles sit in fourth spot after 19 rounds and boast the best attacking record in the competition but the in-form halfback knows the job is far from done.
"Internally, 100 per cent we did [think this was possible]," Cherry-Evans replied when asked whether his side's current position was a realistic goal at the start of the year.
"We're very confident with the squad we had, the coaching staff had some great game plans to implement, we're playing to our strengths and internally we're very confident in our ability and where we can finish. But like I said, we're not counting our chickens just yet. There's a little bit more work to be done.
"There's not a season we go into where we don't want to play finals football. While we've set ourselves up nicely, there's still a bit more hard work to be done."
If the Sea Eagles want to remain in the top four then they must find a way to get past the under-fire Dragons who handed them a rugby league lesson earlier in the year with a 35-10 win at Lottoland.
It was Manly's worst performance of the season with Trent Barrett's men beaten in all the key areas as St George Illawarra's forwards monstered them through the middle allowing halves Gareth Widdop and Josh McCrone to run riot.
The Sea Eagles learnt some harsh lessons that day and Cherry-Evans believes Sunday's encounter will be a good test to see just how far his side has come in the months since that Round 6 loss.
"We actually learnt a fair lesson off them that day," he said.
"They played really well, we had an off day, and they really did take advantage of us. They played some great football and while it's probably not a reflection of where they are right now, we're certainly not underestimating the Dragons. They're a good side and they have a lot of tough individuals to contain so we're on high alert.
"That was our biggest loss margin-wise, and like I said, I think we learnt a lot of lessons as a side that day about preparing, turning up on game day and bringing your best performance.
"I reckon another thing we learnt that day was that we're not a side that relies on individuals; we really are a 17-man squad where everyone needs to chip in for us to get a result. That day we had far too many people play poorly and hopefully we've learnt that lesson and we can move on."
One of the unknowns leading into Sunday's clash is how Dragons fullback Josh Dugan will respond after it was revealed he and fellow Blue Blake Ferguson had gone out for beers five days out from the State of Origin decider.
While the incident has become a bit of a storm in a teacup, Cherry-Evans wouldn't mind seeing a below par performance from Dugan this weekend.
"A few players just mentioned what's going on so I understand where he's at," he said.
"Ideally he hopefully plays badly! He's a great player. He's one of their best attacking options and we understand that we have to try and contain him as best as possible. I guess with all the stuff surrounding him at the moment, I hope he plays poorly."