A month ago, Jesse Martin walked out of Lottoland thinking his season was over.
As captain and lock of the Manly Holden Cup team at the time, Martin had grave concerns that a lifting tackle in the round 26 loss to Penrith would see him suspended.
It was a feeling of mixed emotions for Martin. Like his team-mates, the Sea Eagles had reasons to be happy after qualifying for the finals in eighth position.
“I knew straight away I would be gone for a few weeks. I was gutted,’’ Martin recalled.
The 20-year-old’s fear came true. Martin was handed a two game suspension as Manly prepared for the week one elimination clash against the fifth-placed Nth Qld Cowboys.
The night before the suspension was imposed, Martin took home Manly’s Holden Cup Players’ Player award for the season.
His loss was a major blow as Martin averages 37 tackles and 100 metres every week.
For Martin to play again, his fate laid in the hands of his team-mates who would need to reach the preliminary final in week three for their hard working forward to return.
Fortunately for Martin, his team-mates delivered by overcoming the fifth-placed Cowboys in week one followed by a crushing victory over minor premiers Cronulla in week two.
“The first game I was suspended, I was literally running up and down the sidelines. I was so excited for the boys when they beat the Cowboys,’’ Martin said.
“For the Sharks game, I knew the boys were on from the get go in the sheds. The talk was all positive because we had nothing to lose. The pressure was all on the Sharks.
“The boys stuck it to them in the first 20 minutes and just went on with it.
“I was just relieved they won in the end and I got the chance to play again with this great team.”
Although Martin had made the lock position his own throughout the season, Coach Wayne Lambkin resisted making a change to his winning team with Haumole Olakau’atu doing a great job in the 13 jersey.
For Martin, it meant coming off the interchange bench in the superb preliminary final win over St George-Illawarra Dragons last Saturday.
The 20-year-old knew he had to be careful in not trying too hard to make up for his suspension to his team-mates.
“It was on my mind. If you think about it too much, you can overplay your hand. I just wanted to do my job which was to make plenty of tackles and to get the ball when I needed it,’’ Martin said.
“I was just grateful to be in the side with the amount of talent we have here.
“I might not be captain now but I can still lead the team around and talk to the boys off the field.”
Martin said the spirit within the team was at an all-time high heading into Sunday’s Grand Final against Parramatta.
“Everyone just keeps working hard for each other. No-one has given us a shot of winning the title this year,’’ Martin said.
“We love the underdogs tag. We will take it every week if they want to keep writing us off.
“Many thought we would be out in the first week, and here we are, in a grand final from eighth place.
“Anything can happen now. I’m just grateful to be playing again.”
Holden Cup Grand Final
Manly vs Parramatta
ANZ Stadium, Sunday October 2