When the Manly Sea Eagles were sat on zero points from four games at the start of the season it would have taken a brave soul to suggest they would be still alive come week two of the NRL finals.
But when they take on the Sydney Roosters in Mackay on Friday they will be looking to prove that they have the minerals to fight for a Grand Final place after an ill-discplined display saw them hammered 40-12 by minor premiers the Melbourne Storm in last week’s qualifying play-off.
Their horrific start to the season began with a 46-4 loss to the Roosters, but their chance for revenge this weekend comes at a critical point of the campaign. Having won 16 of 20 games from round five onwards, a meek ending to their play-off run would be scant reward for a terrific turnaround under Des Hasler in 2021.
They’ll be looking for inspiration from Tom Trbojevic, as ever. But Hasler says his team are going to need to do more to support their star full-back than occurred in last week’s defeat to the Storm.
“We didn’t give ourselves a chance,” the 60-year-old told reporters when asked about the inability to get their ace fulkl-back, nicknamed 'Tommy Turbo', into strike positions. “You look at possession, you look at where our possession was… they made us come out of the corner the whole time.
“We didn’t make them chew up any gas. We leaked them down the field both with our ill-discipline with the ball also giving away too many penalties. It was nine in total. That’s just not going to get it done.”
The Roosters finished behind Manly only on points difference on the ladder, so there should be little to separate the sides this time around despite Sydney’s big win in their previous meeting. Trent Robinson’s outfit beat the Gold Coast Titans 25-24 in week one of the play-offs thanks to Sam Walker’s late drop-goal, and there could be an equally tight finish to Friday’s contest with all eyes on the match-up between star full-backs Trbojevic and James Tedesco.
On Saturday the Penrith Panthers get another crack at reaching the preliminary finals after their 16-10 home reverse to the South Sydney Rabbitohs in week one. They face a Parramatta Eels side who knocked out the Newcastle Knights 28-20 on the back of an inspired performance from Mitchell Moses.
The scrum-half will be turned to again for inspiration as the sixth-placed finishers take on a Panthers team which ended level on points with the Melbourne Storm at the top of the table.
Viliame Kikau has been cleared to play for the Panthers after he was charged with dangerous contact in the loss to the Rabbitohs but handed a monetary penalty and no suspension. He should get the nod as part of the 17 for Ivan Cleary as Penrith look to set up a preliminary final with the Storm in next week’s double-header at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
Friday 10:50 BST - Manly Sea Eagles v Sydney Roosters (Sky Sports Arena)
Saturday 10:50 BST - Penrith Panthers v Parramatta Eels (Sky Sports Mix)