THIS time last year, Manly were on track for their worst attacking season since 1992.
Twelve months later, and the Sea Eagles are back in the NRL’s top four with the best attacking record in the competition.
Manly’s 35-18 flogging of defending premiers Cronulla on Sunday was the fifth time they have scored 30 or more this season.
According to the Fox Sports Lab, captain Daly Cherry-Evans is now second in the competition for try assists (18), while five-eighth Blake Green has forced the most line dropouts (15).
In the middle, Martin Taupau tops the NRL for offloads (44), while he is also fourth in average metres (172), as the Sea Eagles lead the competition for tries created through the middle (21).
“As players we’ve just got a bit more confident,” centre Dylan Walker said.
“We started the year bad and we were in the same hole we were last year. But we had to knock that wall down.”
Manly’s recruitment was questioned over the off-season, yet they now find themselves in the top four for the first time since 2014.
Coach Trent Barrett punted on the likes of Curtis Sironen, Akuila Uate and Lloyd Perrett — who each spent time elsewhere in reserve grade last year — as well as uncapped centre Brian Kelly from Gold Coast.
“We had to work really hard in the pre-season to get some young players up to speed where we need to be,” Barrett said.
“And Blake Green and Cherry have been a massive part of that.”
Meanwhile the Sea Eagles halfback said much of that had come down to the faith Barrett had shown in his players — and that the expectations had since risen.
“I believe the best sides in the competition are playing for a coach they appreciate and believe in,” Cherry-Evans said.
“That’s not to say we didn’t think that last year — it was probably more a personnel thing.
“But Trent’s starting to assemble a squad he believes in, a squad that he believes has the ability to win games, and he’s starting to put expectations on us each week to win games.”
However the Sea Eagles could face a blow if second-rower Sironen is ruled out for the season with a pectoral injury, given much of their attack goes through the right-hand channel.
“We don’t have a deep squad,” Barrett said.
“So we’re going to need a little luck coming home with injuries.”