MELBOURNE players deny they were spooked by Manly a fortnight ago and insist they go into Friday night’s clash with South Sydney confident they can match any of the seven remaining teams.
The Sea Eagles’ 28-8 win over the world champs in round 25 stunned the NRL and Craig Bellamy’s men did little to restore faith by struggling to a 23-22 golden point win over Gold Coast last Saturday.
But the suggestion the Sea Eagles went to a new level a fortnight ago which other sides can’t possibly match is flat-out wrong, according to Storm stars.
“It wasn’t so much a shock, it was more a wake-up call for us,” said back rower Ryan Hinchcliffe.
“We know that if we play our best football, we’re quite capable of beating anyone. We knew what Manly would come out and do to us and we just didn’t handle it. They didn’t do anything that they haven’t done before.”
Fellow back rower Ryan Hoffman was similarly defiant, saying: “Finals are a completely different part of the season and we go into this part confident.
“Manly played better than us. We didn’t go in with the right attitude. If we play them again, we’re going to have to shape up, just like next week. We’re going to have to show up with a great attitude.
“I don’t think they’re going to do anything that is going to surprise us too much. We play them all year. I think we get a fair idea.”
Hinchcliffe even admitted a soft build-up to the Manly clash may have taken its toll.
“We’d most probably come through a few games like in Canberra, where we scored a lot of points and weren’t really tested, Parramatta (we won) by 60 points and sometimes those games aren’t that good for you….
“You’re not really tested in those hard areas and I think Manly really tested us with how hard they ran the ball and how hard they got off the line.
“They’re a very physical side. Their kick-chase was very good. They just did all the little things a lot better than us and we knew that’s what they were going to do. We were caught out, we for some reason didn’t handle it very well.
“I thought we improved (against Gold Coast). “
And the tactic of Cooper Cronk kicking for Justin O’Neill, with Billy Slater coming through to capitalise, is set to get plenty more air time over the next month. Winger O’Neill tendered the best aerial display of the season at the weekend.
“It’s something we work on each week,” said Hinchcliffe. “I guess it comes down to how each team defends, whether their defender’s up in the line or whether he’s back. Cooper sees that. If the winger’s up, he kicks it over his head, if he’s back, they’ll just run it.
“So it’s a week-to-week thing. They’re practicing it each week.
“He’s a great athlete, Juzzy, and when he’s got his game on, he’s very effective for us and it’s great to see he’s doing that well this time of year. It’s a big play in big games, especially the way teams defend up and in these days.”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK