Sea Eagles prop Martin Taupau.

"We are a top-four team."

Manly prop Martin Taupau firmly believes that's where the Sea Eagles should be – and in fact can be well before NRL finals start in eight weeks time.

But they will need to string wins together again and hope the Raiders and Roosters take a slip.

Before round 18 began Manly was in fifth spot on 20 points, or just one win from third-placed Raiders and fourth-placed Roosters on 22.

But the Sea Eagles need to get their act together. They could have caught the Roosters and Raiders with a win over the Rabbitohs last weekend, falling 21-20. That ended a streak of three straight victories.

Match: Sea Eagles v Eels

Round 18 -

Full Time
Sea Eagles

Home Team

Sea Eagles

Scored 36 points
Eels

Away Team

Eels

Scored 24 points

Venue: Lottoland

Match broadcasters:

  • Nine Network
  • Foxtel
  • LIVE PASS

It all starts again with Parramatta at Lottoland on Sunday and then the Storm in Melbourne the following Saturday.

"We have been travelling well but we still need to get going faster each week," Taupau told NRL.com. "And beat the top sides again.

"I do believe we are a top-four team. I know most clubs will say that, but we have shown we are top-four standard.

"Our last loss hurt us as we trumped Souths in nearly every stat – scored more tries, ran more metres, more off-loads, made less missed tackles – and we still went down.

"It came down to some errors at crucial times and the very slow start we had," he said referring to the sluggish Sea Eagles falling 18-6 behind at halftime.

"You've got to hit the 'Go' button from the start. It's something we have to start learning quick or we'll get left behind."

Fix the starts and Manly have a lot going for them. Apart from the ankle injury to hooker Api Koroisau, the rest of the squad is in good health and the Sea Eagles' three Origin players – Jake and Tom Trbojevic and Daly Cherry-Evans – have all emerged from the gruelling series in good condition.

"We came out the other side pretty good," Taupau said of the Origin and rep season. He returned to the Samoan side this year, who he debuted for in 2013 after 24 games with the New Zealand Kiwis.

"At Manly it's all a mental game now – attitude and application.

"We're physically good, got a pretty healthy squad, so it's all between the ears from now."

As for his own game, 56 tackle breaks and 30 off-loads in 16 games makes him a potent member of Des Hasler's middle.

"I could be a little bit better myself. I feel like I get swamped in the tackle so I have to play smarter and it's what I'm trying to do," said Taupau, who does tend to attract three to four defenders each run.

"By that I mean making sure I complement the other two in the middle with me, in Addin Fonua-Blake and Jake [Trbojevic], and our forward pack in general.

"I can't go out and be a one-horse race. We've got an amazing forward pack and it's good to see the video and see how me and Addin and Jake can get the sets rolling."

Sea Eagles front-rower Martin Taupau.
Sea Eagles front-rower Martin Taupau. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

If everything keeps rolling well over the next fortnight, Taupau will play his 150th NRL game when Manly ventures to AAMI Park.

"I knew it was coming up but didn't realise it would be that quick," he said.

"Every player wants at least one NRL game and then you want more and it gets to a point where you're at 50 before you know it.

"I've been fortunate to be near 150 now so it's a huge milestone for me.

"I was a slow starter in the game but I'm really enjoying it at the moment."

The 29-year-old made his NRL debut for the Bulldogs in 2010 but only played one game that year. He spent four seasons at Belmore but only racked up 21 games before heading to the Wests Tigers (2014) and then to Manly (2016).