Six weeks ago the Manly Sea Eagles were out muscled by the cellar dwelling Penrith Panthers at Centrebet Stadium. There were signs that the defending premiers were at a serious crossroad in their season.
Injury to key personnel, a first year coach, rumour of player movement and the pressure of “second year syndrome” on their kid playmaker, Daly Cherry-Evans, could have seriously hampered their tilt at back-to-back premierships.
Shock losses earlier in the year to the Parramatta Eels and Gold Coast Titans would have had other clubs seriously worried about their campaign. If the Eagles wilted, who could blame them?
A lesser team would have taken the easy way out and floated through the rest of the season on their fat pay checks.
All the symptoms were there. Questions were being asked and if experts weren’t saying it, they sure were thinking it. Would the Eagles crumble like so many defending premiers had done before them?
But like the champion team they are, they have risen from the ashes and stood their ground. With the heavyweight championship firmly strapped around their waist, the Eagles are back and ready to defend their crown.
On Sunday, Manly destroyed the hapless Eels with a masterful first half display that saw veteran winger David Williams cross for four tries.
Cherry-Evans controlled, the silky backs scored and the forwards worked.
It seems the exodus of players to other clubs for 2013 has added even more determination for this squad. One last shot at glory for this group of players.
Coach Geoff Toovey still wasn’t happy with the entire performance.
“Rightly or wrongly, our players individually made some poor decisions and made the wrong option” Toovey said at the post match presser.
“I was disappointed for our fans really.
“But I thought for periods of the game, we were outstanding – particularly in the first half.
“We just went to sleep in the second half.
“I’m not saying it’s acceptable, but I am saying that we’re a good team and showed plenty of good football today.”
In the past three weeks, the Eagles have smashed the Eels, enjoyed a bye and smashed another struggler in the Sydney Roosters. At this time of the year, the top sides are suppose to dominate the weak.
They might still have some injury concerns, but would you doubt such a tight group? Would you question a side that has been through so much together?
Through all the adversity they have faced in 2012, the Eagles are still standing and still swinging.
Next week they travel to Newcastle to face Wayne Bennett’s motley crew of misfits. The score could be anything.