'No-one thought we'd be here': DCE
Manly skipper Daly Cherry-Evans says his side has already defied popular predictions by even making an appearance in September football, but having got there he believes nothing less than an October appearance will suffice.
Speaking at the 2017 Telstra Premiership Finals Series captains' call at ANZ Stadium on Monday, Cherry-Evans backed his unfancied team to kick on on the back of two morale-boosting wins to close out the regular season.
Their first task – a sudden-death elimination final against the Panthers – presents them with the unusual situation of lining up against an opponent in consecutive weeks.
While Cherry-Evans expected Penrith to improve from last week when they were smacked 28-12 by Manly at Lottoland last Saturday, he believes momentum should favour the Sea Eagles.
"No doubt they'll be better, they'll have a fire in their belly after what happened on the weekend," Cherry-Evans said.
"We'll have to train harder, we'll have to gain more motivation out of being in the finals and we'll have to find a new way to beat the Panthers but I'm confident we'll be able to do that.
"We've won two really good games on the trot now so we'll be taking confidence into the finals. We've got a strong belief that we can do some really positive things over the next four weeks."
It was an at-times feisty match in Round 26, with Manly players – and in particular centre Dylan Walker – happy to remind Panthers centre Tyrone Peachey about his mid-week comments that Penrith were the better team.
"There were a few personal battles out there and to be completely honest it's great to see that in rugby league," Cherry-Evans said.
"We can probably be a little contained in this day and age with so much spotlight on each game but the weekend was a great game, there was plenty said, there were plenty of actions to follow it up.
"Ultimately all I care that comes out of the game is a win so however we go about it to get that, that's not too much of a worry, it's just making sure we get the result."
Asked if he reminded Peachey about those comments, Cherry-Evans laughed: "I'm sure Dylan let him know about it!"
On a more serious note, Cherry-Evans was relishing a return to finals footy after two consecutive bottom-eight finishes in 2015-16 – the only years of his career the Manly half has not played finals football.
"It's only been two years which might not sound like too long when you look at the bigger picture but it felt like an age," Cherry-Evans said.
"It's been a really long two years. I'm so proud to be able to represent this club and be able to get it back into finals football.
"It is an expectation at Manly that you play finals football every year so to reward the club and the fans with a pretty good season, it's great to be back and it's exciting for the club.
"Realistically no-one predicted us to be here. That in itself is an achievement but as I've also mentioned earlier in the year this side also believes we're a finals footy side.
"This isn't a surprise for us [to be in the finals], this isn't a shock, it's what we've worked for and now is where you really can leave your mark in the competition, is how far you progress through these finals and we're looking to progress for four weeks."