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Diabolical. Shambolic. Yuck.

The tirades were coming in thick and fast when Manly recorded their worst opening to a season in club history but their remarkable turnaround goes further than the return of Tom Trbojevic.

Trbojevic's pre-season shower incident that damaged his hamstring proved costly early but the star fullback has repaid the Sea Eagles in spades with 18 tries and 19 try assists in 11 games.

It's easy to forget Manly were a team that had quickly hit rock bottom after four rounds of the season - they were in the mix for a wooden spoon rather in April but now they are challenging for the title.

For a team that failed to reach the finals in 2020, all eyes were on the Sea Eagles and particularly coach Des Hasler after the club announced his contract extension in the midst of the dreadful start.

A 46-4 flogging at the hands of the Roosters raised question marks around Hasler's future while the recruitment of returning veteran Kieran Foran was also in the firing line after he failed to combine with Daly Cherry-Evans.

"Physically in the first game of the year, you expect a better result and a better performance," Hasler said after the season opener.

Storm rivalry a ‘barometer’ test for Des’ Sea Eagles

"I feel a bit sorry for the fans. We need to give a better account of ourselves. We need to make that pretty quickly."

However, the club privately was happy to hand Hasler a contract extension in the days following the result, leading to many being bemused by the timing of the announcement.

Another loss against heavyweight side South Sydney in round two was met with a season-ending injury to second-rower Andrew Davey and things didn't get better with further rock-bottom performances against the Dragons and Panthers.

"The season's started pretty hard and we just have to ride through it and get players back on the park," Hasler said.

"There are a few things we need to work on, particularly big moment plays. There's a quality fight in this side. We’ll dig our way out of this."

Former Storm and Roosters premiership-winner Cooper Cronk put it bluntly about Hasler's side after their round-three loss to the Dragons.

"I think Manly's game is in shambles, with and without the football," he said.

A week later, eighth immortal Andrew Johns was next to put the boot in.

"Body language, yuck," he said. "I can't see Manly getting out of this hole, not in the near future."

There's a quality fight in this side. We’ll dig our way out of this.

Des Hasler after the 0-4 season start

Cherry-Evans said the criticism was warranted and had infiltrated the Manly camp.

"Our first four weeks beat our confidence up a fair bit," he said.

"Ever since round four we've just been trying to build back our momentum and build back our belief and obviously over the course of the season that has come back."

Foran added his return to the Sea Eagles started out as anything but a happy homecoming.

"We worked our backsides off throughout the pre-season and came up against some red-hot sides in those first four rounds," he said.

Tom Trbojevic breaking tackles with ease

"They were all playing their best footy and we were understrength. We were a new side, a lot of us hadn't played any games together and are still finding our feet.

"To be able to turn it around in the coming weeks and build some momentum throughout our year has been really good."

While many will say the turning point came the minute Trbojevic graced the regional turf of Mudgee's Glen Willow Oval in round six, a wobbly field goal to Cherry-Evans a week earlier was the catalyst for the maroon and white renaissance.

Match Highlights: Warriors v Sea Eagles

In a match that will only be replayed again in loungerooms by the true diehards, a one-point win on the siren over the Warriors in round five was just as important as the last three months of the season.

"We knew we had to find a way to win that game," Foran said.

"There was a real belief heading into that game that it didn't matter how ugly it was we had to get our season rolling sooner than later or else we were going to be no hope of getting there at the end of the year.

"I do believe that game kick-started us. It went down to the wire and Chezza found a way to kick a field goal.

"Off the back of that we obviously got Turbo back the following week and started to get some troops back.

"As a group our belief and confidence grew. We've been able to keep rolling from there."

A six-try romp against the more-fancied Titans in Mudgee was followed up by another scoring spree against the Wests Tigers at Bankwest Stadium.

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In his first fortnight back, Trbojevic had two tries, four try assists and nine tackle busts.

"When [the team is] not going well, you put it a bit on yourself because you can't be out there helping, you're sitting on the sideline watching," he said.

"It was tough [for the first month] but we're lucky enough that we've shown our resolve to fight out of that. We're still not sitting on the table where we want to, we've got a long way to go."

Match Highlights: Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles

The side then displayed the key to facing Melbourne this week, a competitive performance against last year's grand finalists Penrith in Bathurst.

"There are some good signs, we just need to get more consistent in a couple of areas," Hasler said after the round-eight loss.

"They [the players] know that, there's enough experience there. We'll keep working on it. We got within reach of them."

The Sea Eagles have won nine of 11 games since their gutsy showing and piled on an average 39 points per game against sides to set up a date with Melbourne on Saturday night.

Many will argue they've avoided clashes against top-four sides due to a friendly draw but the Sea Eagles will get a gauge on their title credentials against a Storm side on track to clinch back-to-back premierships.

"Manly can win the comp," former Wests Tigers legend Robbie Farah said on NRL Teams this week.

Tommy Turbo is superhuman at the moment. If he's playing and the form he's in, Manly can win the comp.

Robbie Farah

"This week is a massive test for them. If they can stand up in this game they'll put the whole competition on notice.

"They were diabolical in the first month of the season. Dessie was under pressure. They were conceding over 30 points a game.

"Tommy Turbo is a part of everything they're doing, he is superhuman at the moment. If he's playing and the form he's in, Manly can win the comp.

"He's on the Jarryd Hayne run [with Parramatta] of 2009. You look back at some individual players at their best who have just carried teams on their back and said 'hey get on the back of me and let's go do this'.

"What he's doing gives confidence to players around him."

Johns, like many this season, have been blown away by Trbojevic's impact on the side and their rapid turnaround.

"I don't think I've seen a player more influential on his team than Turbo is on Manly," he said.

Turbo Tom is nearly untouchable at the moment

Hasler has done his best in recent weeks to keep a lid on the Sea Eagles premiership chances but even the king of flying under the radar has suggested they have been building towards this Storm front.

After a rollercoaster start to the year, Hasler knows all too well the result is only a small piece to chasing a bigger prize at season's end.

"Football seasons are a long one. It's about getting it right and getting through periods of turnaround and Origin," he said on Friday.

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"It's about building in and getting momentum and arriving in September healthy.

"It's round 21, we're still four weeks out from finals. It's more of a test I think to see where we're at.

"There's still aspects to our game we want to improve on. Melbourne the sort of side that make you compete on every aspect.

Sea Eagles v Storm - Round 21

"I guess in some aspects Tommy is a real distraction for other players.

"There are pockets of very good footballers throughout that team that complements each other.

"That's what is so impressive about what they're doing."

Acknowledgement of Country

Manly Warringah Sea Eagles respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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