It wasn’t the ease of the demolition over minor premiers Cronulla that pleased Manly’s Holden Cup Coach Wayne Lambkin the most.
“Just sticking to the game plan and seeing what we all agreed upon on what was going to beat Cronulla,’’ is how Lambkin summed up the 44-22 thumping of the Sharks.
Leading up to last Saturday’s elimination semi-final against the premiership favourites, Lambkin spoke about the importance of his men staying with the Sharks in the opening 20 minutes – a period where “they come out like it is a training session and go through all their plays”.
It worked a treat. By half-time, Manly led 24-12. Forty minutes later, the Sea Eagles won by 22 points to book a place in today's preliminary final against St George-Illawarra Dragons at Allianz Stadium.
“You have a game plan, but whether or not it is adhered to, or goes ahead, that’s certainly up to the players,’’ Lambkin said.
“But full credit to the boys, they deserve the accolades.
“I was so pleased we just stuck to what we all agreed on in what was going to beat Cronulla. The players have bought in…they are just doing the things we know that will eventually break down the opposition.
“To me, that’s the greatest thing we have got going for us now. We have got good belief in ourselves and we have got good momentum. We have stuck pretty much to what suits us as a footy team.
“It is more of a fact now that this is the way we play and we are comfortable with that. The opposition has got to stop that if they are going to beat us, rather than us trying to change for each opposition that we play.
“It is that consistency, the self-belief, and sticking to the plan. It is hard to get young footballers to stick to something and believe in it. They are all looking good because of the way we are playing.”
For the third straight week, Manly will be the outsiders. The Dragons will start favourites after finishing the regular season in third place. They head into the game after having last weekend off following their 18-14 victory over the second-placed Penrith in week one.
The Sea Eagles, who finished in eighth place after 26 rounds, knocked out the fifth-placed Nth Qld Cowboys in week one before crushing the Sharks last weekend, much to the surprise of many outside the club.
“We are thriving off the opportunity. The only thing that we have said from the first semi-final, it doesn’t matter who doesn’t think we can’t win as long as the players and the coaching staff within the dressing room believe we can, then that is all that matters,’’ Lambkin added.
“The self-belief is there.
“There are expectations this week on the Dragons. They will be thinking to themselves that we have beaten Manly twice this season, and if we lose to them, it will be for a grand final spot.
“We have never spoken about looking too far ahead. All I say to the players is dare to dream
“Dreams and dedication are a deadly combination. We still have a bit to do, but dare to dream.
“The momentum is with us and we know what that is like at this time of the year. The pressure is all on the Dragons. We have got nothing to lose.”
Holden Cup Preliminary Final
Manly Sea Eagles v St George-Illawarra Dragons
Saturday September 16, 2.30pm, Allianz Stadium