It didn't end the way they envisioned, but Manly captain Daly Cherry-Evans is "proud" of how his team defied the doubters after a horrendous start to the season.
While the 36-16 preliminary final loss to the Rabbitohs at Suncorp Stadium shattered the Sea Eagles, few predicted they would have been just one game from the decider after a winless opening month.
"Obviously we were written off to be no chance to be even close to this moment today," Cherry-Evans said after Friday's defeat.
"So I'm really proud of the group coming together and sticking together and just fighting our way through a season."
Manly's bus arrived late to the venue after being stuck in traffic, but coach Des Hasler offered no excuses for the performance. He conceded that South Sydney were simply "too good".
Match Highlights: Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles
"We probably didn't do ourselves any favours in that first half. We afforded them too much field position and they capitalised on that," said Hasler, who admitted it was a "missed opportunity tonight".
He highlighted two correctly disallowed tries in the first half - one for obstruction and the other for a Tom Trbojevic knock-on - as turning points.
"We probably needed one of those to fall our way. That didn't eventuate and I think they were both 12-point turnarounds," he said before clarifying that he was satisfied with the obstruction call.
"You've got to manage these games. They're big-moment games and we probably didn't manage it as well as what we've should have.
"Once you get that imbalance, you start to fatigue a little bit. I think South Sydney just got out of their own end and got down our end too easily."
Hasler reflects on season 2021
Overall, Manly's campaign was filled with highlights, none greater than Tom Trbojevic's personal achievements.
The development of talented youngsters like second-rowers Josh Schuster and Haumole Olakau'atu also planted the seeds for the future.
"It's been a great development platform, that's for sure, and we'll harness that going forward," said Hasler, who also pointed out Reuben Garrick being the season's top point-scorer.
And the club could still come away with a prize this season with Trbojevic and Cherry-Evans among the five contenders for the Dally M Medal, with the winner to be announced on Monday night.
"They're right in the picture and I think either player would be fitting. I don't think anyone would be too upset if either of those took the prestigious award home," Hasler said.
Trbojevic is the raging favourite for the best-and-fairest gong and Cherry-Evans marvelled at his fullback's consistent brilliance, especially after a torrid 2020 that was ruined by injuries.
"I've played with some outstanding players, but the quality of the season was something I hadn't really seen before," the halfback said.
"I'm really proud to be his teammate and watch him work so hard to come back and play the way he's played this season. It's all about backing it up next year, not just for Tom but for us as a team."
No-look Schuster pass gets Garrick Manly's first try
There was a moment worth revisiting early in the match when play continued for 40 seconds after Sea Eagles prop Sean Keppie was dazed after an attempted tackle on Mark Nicholls.
Manly were defending their line at the time and Keppie tried to make a tackle before being taken off for a HIA, which he failed.
Hasler, though, said he understood "both sides of the argument" for the referee continuing or stopping play after the drama that ensued in the semi-final between the Eels and Panthers.
"Last week, it probably cost a side a semi-final spot – or that's what Parramatta were saying certainly, not being able to play on," he said.
"This week, it's got to be looked at during the off-season. I understand both sides of the argument. Probably there's a fine line.
"[The NRL] might look at maybe the orange shirt [trainer] … The person out there that's trained to read some medical situations might be miked or linked back maybe to the doctor or something on the sidelines," he suggested.