Sun-Herald 160907 The first thing you notice when you walk into Anthony Watmough's apartment is the pole. To the untrained eye, it looks like the type you'd find in a strip club. However, the boys at the poker table insist it's a load-bearing structure. "They've had a few dramas with the roof, they've had to put that in," Steve Menzies explains, poker-faced. Travis Burns adds: "Yeah, there's some pretty dodgy builders around these days." Perhaps. The other thing you notice at Watmough's place is the poker table. It's a humdinger, the type you'd expect to see at Star City Casino. Menzies has a similar one at his place, the alternative venue for Manly's weekly poker games. At this time of year, midway through the semi-finals series, the on-field stakes are always high. It's not the case when The Sun-Herald joins the Sea Eagles for their Friday afternoon card game. Poker is the name of the game and it's a $10 buy-in, with $20 giving you $200 in chips. If it's tournament play, the last man standing gets the dough, but today you can buy back in if you do your cash early. If the Sea Eagles are nervous about the prospect of playing in a grand final qualifier in a week's time, they're not showing it. It's all about the boys and the banter - but no beer. They're a funny bunch and they don't mind ribbing each other. "Matty Ballin's only here because he heard you guys [The Sun-Herald] were coming," Burns says. "He wants to get his head in the paper. I can't believe he's still got his shirt on." One of the pool sharks at the end of the table suggest he won't be wearing it by game's end. After a quick survey of the room, it's pretty obvious who the joker is. Burns. He is a big bluffer. His poker playing style is described as aggressive and erratic - "pretty much like he is on the field", Menzies says. "Beaver" Menzies, however, is described by all and sundry as "tight". And not just at the table. "Beaver never wants to be banker because if we're short, it comes out of his pocket," Watmough laughs. "Beaver never wins - no one gets to see his money." The Stewart brothers are steady performers, although Glenn takes his poker more seriously than younger sibling Brett. "It's pretty even, but I get the better of him every now and then," Glenn says. Chris Hicks is one of the sharks. He describes Burns as a walking ATM and reckons he's good to take his teammates' money as well. "I always smash [Burns] up, he's hopeless," Hicks says, just loud enough for the five-eighth to hear. "Choc [Watmough] is normally the banker but he's not real good with the cash. It's his place, so we let him off. "I hold my own. We all enjoy it, it's all good. When you're winning pots it's good, but when you're losing the boys stick the boot in a bit." You'd think if anyone had a decent poker face it would be Des Hasler. As a footballer he gave nothing away. Not much has changed since he took over as coach - you're more likely to take money off Beaver than get a screaming headline out of Hasler. He won't give opposition coaches any ammunition but his charges always call his bluff. "He comes along occasionally, he's hopeless," Menzies says. Hasler does have one thing going for him - his team. The camaraderie among the players is as evident at Watmough's apartment as it is on the field. The Silvertails have hardly been flush with success since their last premiership 11 years ago, but the current crop are a genuine chance of breaking the drought thanks to their teamwork and determined defence. Despite their tremendous season, they have had critics question their ability to win the premiership. As the players play their poker match, their bond suggests if the chips are down in their grand final qualifier, they'll turn up for each other. Pool sharks, glamour boys, even Burnsy - brothers all.