A few weeks ago, Manly were under more pressure than Clive Palmer’s belt buckle after a big Chinese meal.
And while they still sit on the bottom of the NRL ladder, victories over Melbourne and Newcastle in their last two outings have well and truly put the Sea Eagles back into finals contention.
This Monday night they take on a Penrith side that produced the toughest performance I’ve seen from them all year against the Broncos last Friday night.
It was a heartbreaking finish but with Jamie Soward back in charge, it was clear the Panthers were a more disciplined, structured outfit.
And while Soward got most of the praise, the return of Elijah Taylor shouldn’t go without mention.
Back from injury, his incredible defensive efforts were on show again with 49 tackles in 61 minutes.
Manly’s win over Newcastle last weekend was on the back of a stellar performance by halfback Daly Cherry-Evans, who will be aiming to convince Queensland selectors that he deserves his spot on the interchange bench after suggestions that he may miss out when the team is named next week.
Cherry-Evans has had a tough three months with contract speculation at the forefront of his mind, but in recent weeks he’s done his talking on the field and proved why he’s one of the game’s leading playmakers.
When Cherry-Evans and Brett Stewart are both on the field at Brookvale, Manly grow another leg.
Last Sunday’s win was a trademark Manly performance with Stewart scoring two tries and Cherry-Evans involved in anything and everything.
The Panthers, however, match Cherry-Evans and Stewart through Jamie Soward and Matt Moylan, albeit with a little less flair.
Moylan too has something to prove with most now expecting NSW Blues coach Laurie Daley to overlook him for Origin duty in favour of Dragons fullback Josh Dugan. Moylan has one last chance to impress Daley against an in-form Sea Eagles outfit.
Penrith toughed it out against the Broncos last week but in the end, the home side won the mental battle. It would have been an exhausting encounter to be a part of and with master coach Wayne Bennett at the helm, Brisbane just know how to close out those games a little better than the Panthers.
The Panthers will be without Tyrone Peachey for this match after he was suspended for his dangerous throw on Adam Blair, but in a huge boost, will welcome back hooker James Segeyaro.
That allows Cleary to shift Apisai Koroisau to five-eighth to partner Soward. Peter Wallace is rated a slim chance of returning.
On their last trip to Brookvale Oval, the Panthers lost in heartbreaking and controversial circumstances back in 2014. But the two sides have already met this season, with the Panthers easily accounting for the Sea Eagles only a few weeks ago. It’ll be a little bit tougher this time around given Manly’s recent good form, but a similar game plan wouldn’t go astray.
The Panthers need to shut down Manly on the fringes and take them on in the middle. Stay committed, stay focused and the Panthers should have the talent to win the match.
Tip: Panthers by 12
– Troy Dodds