: NRL Round 23, South Sydney Rabbitohs v Manly Warringah, Blue Tongue Stadium, Gosford, Friday 16th August 2013. Photo: Copyright © Renee McKay/Action Photographics

Road to GF starts with Rabbitohs showdown

As the Sea Eagles prepare for their tenth successive finals appearance, coach Geoff Toovey has stressed the importance of winning next week’s qualifying final against South Sydney.

Manly had to do it the hard way to reach last year’s grand final after losing to the Roosters in week one. It meant that Toovey’s men had to overcome Cronulla and South Sydney in consecutive weeks to book their place in the grand final.

However, while the Sea Eagles enjoyed a magical run into the decider last season, Toovey conceded he doesn’t want to take the same route to October this time around.

“That week off is an advantage. Both teams in the top four will be vying for that week off. We had a pretty tough game last year against the Roosters and that took its toll the next week,” Toovey said.

His side may have lost their grip on the minor premiership following yesterday’s loss to North Queensland but Toovey isn’t concerned with the top spot label.

He admits, although the minor premiership would have been a great reward for a terrific season, it’s the big one on the first Sunday of October that matters most.

“We would have loved to finish at the top of the comp by ourselves but we’re still number one in my books. For-and-against cost us,” Toovey said.

“It would have been nice, it would have been a reward for the players but it’s not to be.”

The Sea Eagles have been well below their best in recent weeks, losing three of their past five matches heading into week one of the finals.

While they went through the regular season without back-to-back losses, Toovey says his side needs to control the ball if they are to give this year’s finals series a shake.

“It’s a mind thing,” he said. “It’s not anything you can train for. Collectively we’ve got to be better. We’re just dropping the ball, kicking the ball out on the full and just making poor choices at times.

“On the day anyone can beat anyone, that’s how close the competition is. You’ve really got to turn up and put your best game on the paddock.”

Manly were without a host of key members for their clash against the Cowboys, losing Brett Stewart and Brenton Lawrence hours out from kick off to add to a growing injury ward.

“I know I said this last week but he (Lawrence) will definitely be back next week. It was one of those things,” Toovey said.