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Harper's bizarre finals campaign: Surprise spray revives centre's form

The famed Sea Eagles siege mentality has served Des Hasler well over the years, but it was a surprise, well-intentioned spray from within that picked Morgan Harper up after his nightmare final debut.

Harper's right-edge may as well have been magnetised two weeks ago given Melbourne's repeated raids, with two unfortunate errors from the young centre leading directly to Storm tries as he endured the toughest of nights out.

The 2021 campaign has been a breakout year for Harper, who returned to form along with the rest of the Manly side against the Roosters last Friday in Mackay.

Support from Hasler and his long-time mind coach John Novak energised Harper leading into the sudden-death stoush.

But it was tough love from his partner, Bailey Wilson, that rang truest for Harper, who at one stage had to leave her and their young twin boys Leo and Ryder behind in New Zealand when he first pursued his NRL career.

Every try from finals week two

"I was pretty disappointed in myself to be honest," Harper said on Sunday.

"I was kind of pissed off. That's the main one. I knew that's not how I can perform.

"I just played shit so I just needed to turn it around. That's all it was.

"I've got my missus back here with me [in Manly's Sunshine Coast camp]. She knew I was pretty down, but she picked me back up and told me in a not-so-nice-way to pull my head in and carry on.

Match Highlights: Sea Eagles v Roosters

"She rides the wave as well, in the good times she's always happy. And in the bad times she's always there to pick me up and give me a solid personal review on the game."

A preliminary final showdown with South Sydney arguably poses an even tougher defensive assignment for Harper and edge comrades Haumole Olakau'atu and Daly Cherry-Evans.

Few right-edge defences have managed to keep a lid on Cody Walker this season, even if fellow star Latrell Mitchell is no longer lurking the same corridors due to suspension.

Hasler has long kept his faith in Harper though having first signed him as a 17-year-old with Canterbury, the pair reuniting at Manly last year at the coach's behest.

Harper's strong form has kept him ahead of Dragons-bound centre Moses Suli in the Sea Eagles' pecking order for much of the year, while one-time representative star Dylan Walker has been transformed into a middle utility given the right-centre role has been sewn up.

Hasler was at his faux-aloof best when dealing with the media before and after last Friday's win over the Roosters, giving one-word answers in interviews and expanding most when he was praising South Sydney.

Finals Factor: Turbo back in a big way

For Harper though, being at close quarters with Hasler in camp has revealed a softer side.

"He's a pretty cool guy, to be honest with you," Harper said.

"Away from footy, he's always saying hello to the family and that because they've been around and my kids know who he is.

"He's got that side of them as well … from when I got to Manly he's been super for me.

"He laid down the law and said 'this is what we're doing, this is where we're going'. He gave me a lot of goals that I had to tick off during the pre-season.

"And into the season he's been a massive help along with all the other coaches. I'm just grateful to be here and to have a coach like him, it's unreal."  

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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