NRL 2 years ago

Sea Eagles facing finals litmus test

  • Sea Eagles facing finals litmus test

Facing a horror month in which they will have their mettle tested by the NRL's best, Manly aren't buying into the buzz about their top eight hopes.

Having spent most of the season sitting at the bottom of the table, the Sea Eagles have cracked the door slightly ajar with three wins from their last four.

While asking a team to win six from their last eight would ordinarily be too big an ask, Geoff Toovey's big guns are firing and opposition sides are beginning to look over their shoulders.

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With fullback Brett Stewart in career-best form, halves Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans sparking their outside backs and captain Jamie Lyon back on the park, they suddenly seem a formidable force.

An 11th straight finals series would be one of the fairytale storylines of the NRL season but standing in Manly's way are showdowns with four of the five best sides in the competition over the next four weeks.

They start with second-placed North Queensland on Monday before facing a tough road trip to Auckland to take on the Warriors. This will be followed by outings against ladder-leaders Brisbane and premiers South Sydney.

Add into the mix a difficult trip down the Hume Highway to face Canberra and a showdown with premiership favourites the Sydney Roosters, the Sea Eagles are facing the worst run home of all the top eight hopefuls.

Toovey said he was not getting carried away with what they had achieved and he would have a better idea of where they stood after facing the Cowboys.

"The competition is so close this year, there's only four points between 12th and sixth," Toovey said on Friday.

"It's a competition that anyone can win but the problem for us at the moment is making sure we can get into the top eight to be there come semi-final time ... We're not getting carried away, the big test is this Monday.

"Hopefully the result goes our way compared to (Manly's last meeting with the Cowboys in round 12) when we probably should have won but didn't get the money."

Toovey revealed prop Brenton Lawrence was edging towards a return to first grade as he recovers from back surgery.

Just a few years ago the late-blooming front-rower was being talked about as a Queensland State of Origin bolter but he has played just one first-grade game this season.

The 30-year-old's absence has been deeply felt by the Manly pack which lost the likes of Glenn Stewart, Anthony Watmough and Jason King this year.

Lawrence returned in NSW Cup last week, lasting 30 minutes, and will have this weekend off with the Sea Eagles reserves having the bye.

Toovey said the club was bringing him back slowly but hoped to have him back in time for the finals.

"He just needs to be monitored," Toovey said.

"It's a fairly significant injury. I'd hate for him to go backwards if something happened.

"It's a fairly cautious approach but we're confident he'll be back sooner rather than later."

AAP sz/mg

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