Dejected Manly coach Trent Barrett admits his team's confidence has been rocked by a recent run of losses and isn't sure how to turn things around – but knows it needs to happen quickly if the team is to be a factor in September.
The Sea Eagles have dropped from third place after 19 rounds to eighth after 24 on the back of four losses in five rounds, with a chance to drop out of finals contention altogether if they can’t find at least one more win in the regular season.
In particular, two huge losses to the Dragons and Storm in Rounds 20 and 21 are taking some time to recover from, according to Barrett, despite seeming to turn a corner in a second-half comeback against the Roosters in Round 22 and a good start last week at Leichhardt against Wests Tigers.
"We're in a hole, to be fair, and down on confidence and probably lacking a fair bit of belief," Barrett said.
"How does it happen? If everyone had the answer to that you'd be a very successful coach and it's something I've got to work out and work out quite quickly as have the players.
"Our performance [was] very lacklustre considering what we had to play for.
"We got knocked around a little bit through those Dragons and the Storm games. Put a good half together against the Roosters and looked like we were on the way back. A good half the first half against the Tigers. Confidence is a funny thing. It comes and goes quite quickly. Who knows where it goes? But we've got to find it in a hurry."
Barrett insisted you don't simply go from being a team good enough to sit third after 19 rounds to a team only capable of playing in fits and starts in the space of a month.
"The intent in everything we're doing is just down at the moment and we have to work hard to get ourselves out," he added.
He admitted the team were "shell-shocked" at half time after Canterbury's three first-half four pointers.
He also pointed out Manly's lack of big-game experience outside of a few key players compared to a host of Origin- and finals-hardened campaigners in the blue and white ranks.
"So maybe the pressure of that or the expectation of that might be in the back of their minds as well but that's something I've got to handle and the players have got to handle and we've got to get ourselves out of it because these opportunities don't come that often," he said.
"That's what I want to impress on these young players, opportunities to play semi-finals don't come every year. I'd hate to throw it away and that's the reality of it. We have to man up and get ourselves out of it, myself included."