The belief that ‘finals footy is a whole new ball game’ has certainly rang true over the past fortnight.
One only has to look at what the Sea Eagles have achieved in the Holden Cup. Finishing eighth after 26 rounds, Manly took out the fifth placed Nth Qld Cowboys in week one, and then backed it up by shredding the skin off the Sharks last weekend.
It was no ordinary win. The Sharks won 19 of 22 matches in the regular season to finish minor premiers and were strongly fancied to win the title.
They are now out, leaving Manly to face the third-placed St George-Illawarra Dragons at Allianz Stadium this Saturday afternoon in the preliminary final.
The Dragons beat Manly 32-26 in round six and 46-22 in round 20. But as the finals have already shown, that form guide can be thrown out the window.
St George-Illawarra will start favourites after beating the second-placed Penrith 18-14 in week one to earn a week off last weekend.
However, that’s not a bad thing for the Sea Eagles. You can sense Coach Wayne Lambkin and his troops thrive off the ‘underdog’ tag.
They bustled the Cowboys into frustration, and then applied the blowtorch to the more fancied Sharks.
The pressure of being favourites told early. The Sharks had crushed many a side this season in the first 20 minutes - a fact Lambkin stressed to his men. After two minutes, Cronulla led 6-0 and many thought it was just a matter of time.
But Manly showed they were up for the challenge, and by half-time, led 24-12, with five-eighth Tom Wright scoring a double.
What followed in the second half was nothing but sheer quality. The Sea Eagles got out to a 38-12 lead after 65 minutes, with Wright grabbing his third try by that stage.
Post-match, all the talk was on Wright’s hat-trick. He was spectacular, but as any quality back will admit, - and Wright is certainly that - it all starts with the forwards.
The Manly pack found more holes than what environmentalists find in shark nets off Cronulla Beach. With that much open space, it allowed Wright and the backs to run riot.
The scene is now set for another enthralling U20s battle.
The pressure is on the Dragons. Remember, a fortnight ago many experts predicted Manly’s season would be over after week one.
Not that Lambkin or his men cared. They just went bang, bang.
And in doing so, these mighty young Sea Eagles are now just 80 minutes away from playing on the biggest stage of the season - grand final day.
Manly Sea Eagles v St George-Illawarra Dragons
Saturday September 16, 2.30pm, Allianz Stadium