Manly the new benchmark

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ManlyBacker

Winging it
From www.nrl.com
25 April 2005

For Manly skipper Michael Monaghan, the Sea Eagles' surprise rise to outright top spot for the first time since their 1997 grand final year comes down to ensuring the only "turnstiles" at Brookvale Oval are the ones welcoming record crowds.

The Sea Eagles last year added to their woeful recent run when they missed the finals with a 9-15 season tally and the second worst defensive record in the competition - leaking 31 points a game.

Now in 2005's seventh round, Manly is the second best defensive outfit, conceding less than 20 per match.

"The difference has definitely been our defence. Last year we had 22 new players brought into the club and, while it is not an excuse, it takes time to gel in defence," Monaghan said.

"We did a lot of work in the off-season and really worked on being mentally tough in defence.

"We were ordinary in that area last year. If we made a mistake or gave away a penalty we usually had a try scored against us - now we have worked on hanging on in the next set of six after a penalty and it is paying off for us."

And on-field success has led to off-field spoils for the once struggling Eagles.

Thanks to eight straight wins at Brookvale Oval, Manly is attracting its second biggest average home crowd, 15,521 - a figure that will only increase after more than 18,000 cheered on the Sea Eagles to a stunning 48-14 win over South Sydney yesterday.

South Sydney skipper Bryan Fletcher described Manly as "the real deal" after the Sea Eagles' fifth win in seven games.

"Most people wouldn't have expected that we would be sitting in first place seven rounds into the competition," Monaghan admitted.

"People are talking about whether we are the real deal or not, the proof will be in how we finish the season - there's a long way to go.

"Hopefully we can keep the form we are in - if we can do that people will start taking us seriously."

The early signs of improvement came last year when Manly finished with nine wins - four in succession at home - but still finished on equal 13th place.
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