Manly search for positives in form slump
Despite a horror fortnight in which they have conceded 92 points, Manly players still believe a late charge to the top four is not out of the question as they look to address a recent defensive collapse.
A topsy-turvy 52-22 loss to the Dragons at Wollongong a fortnight ago was followed by a dire 40-6 result against the Storm at AAMI Park last week.
Another top-class opposition awaits this week in the Roosters but Manly will be buoyed by a return to their home patch of Lottoland.
If there is a positive to be gleaned from the two-week mini slump – In which they have dropped to seventh on the ladder and remain a chance of dropping out of the top eight altogether – it is that it has come with enough time left in the regular season to correct those faults before the sudden-death finals arrive.
Speaking to journalists at an open media session at the club's Narrabeen training base on Tuesday, skipper Daly Cherry-Evans was typically forthright about the need to quickly stamp out the recent defensive lapses.
"People want to know what's wrong, you don't have to look much further than the scoreline – we've been outscored by a lot of points the last two weeks," Cherry-Evans said.
"Essentially defence is an attitude and our attitude hasn't been good enough when it comes to defending our opposition at the moment."
He asserted the team was the same as it had been over the opening four months of the competition as Trent Barrett's squad defied pre-season predictions to surge to the top four after 16 rounds. However three losses in the past four games sees them now clinging to seventh, just a win ahead of the eighth-placed Dragons and ninth-placed Panthers, with an inferior for-and-against to both.
"It's obviously a big drop in form but we're still the same side we were through the first 20 rounds of the competition, the personnel hasn't changed," he said.
"We're still following the same systems and structures we had the first 20 rounds. We just need to do it better."
There would be some frank and honest conversations behind closed doors this week, he added, aimed at how to turn the team around without picking on any players in particular.
"We're not looking to point fingers at any individuals, we're looking at how we can be better as a player to help this side win this weekend," he said.
"This side's never been about pointing fingers or throwing anyone under the bus. It's about making sure you're being the best player you possibly can to make this side better. With that, criticism definitely helps."
A top-four finish remains the goal, but not the immediate priority, he added.
"There are five games left which is 10 points to gain which would leave us on about 36 points," he said, acknowledging that historically, premiers rarely come from outside the top four.
"History does suggest you need to be in the top four to win the comp but I think this side in particular has certainly shown that anything's possible," he added.
"We're not even meant to be in finals contention. So if we can get ourselves an opportunity to be in the finals then that's exciting enough for me.
"We're still a good side. While two weeks is a form slump, it all goes away if we win this weekend.
"Like everything in rugby league, winning silences all critics. We need to go out there and put in a really good performance against a really good opposition."