After months of relentless speculation and poor form, the pressure valve was finally released at Brookvale when their season was thought to be over.
But superstar playmaker Daly Cherry-Evans believes that is exactly when the Sea Eagles began to gather steam in their unlikely charge to the NRL finals.
After their impressive win over South Sydney last week, Manly are expected to make light work of Canberra in the nation’s capital on Sunday on the way to bigger and better things.
With his contract saga behind him, Kieran Foran’s future no longer an issue and coach Geoff Toovey’s exit from Brookvale at season’s end confirmed, Cherry-Evans says the Sea Eagles are finally playing free of pressure.
Manly have won five of their last six and could force their way into the top eight on Sunday, depending on other results in round 23 as they chase an 11th-straight finals berth.
“I definitely believe it has been a lot of hard work over the past couple of months that has resulted in these wins, coincidentally there has been nothing lingering over us any more as a team,” Cherry-Evans said.
“I think the fact that a lot of pressure went off us when no one expected us to make the top eight probably six weeks ago, the pressure valve really went off us as a side and the expectations from everyone else dropped.
“That’s when this football side and this club seems to play its best football when we become the underdog, we have to keep chipping away, we are not where we need to be.
“We are still of the opinion that we have to win every game this season to make the finals. So with that high expectation we have on ourselves, we know we have to work hard and the results will come off the back of it.”
Cherry-Evans said Manly has been spurred on by the sacking of Toovey.
“The fact that he is gone gives us extra motivation to play for him,” he said.
Willie Mason’s two week ban for a shoulder charge means Josh Starling will start at prop for Manly against the Raiders. Ligi Sao comes onto the bench for the visitors.
Canberra, who still retain a slim chance of making the final eight, welcome back Edrick Lee from suspension. Sisa Waqa moves from the wing to accommodate Lee, replacing Joey Leilua who has been suspended for a shoulder charge.
* Canberra’s 2-8 home record is the worst in the NRL
* Canberra average the equal most points in the league along with Brisbane (23.9 per game)
* Manly had won just one of its first eight away games this season, but big wins against the Titans and Warriors sees them chasing three-straight away wins for the first time since 2013.
* Canberra has struggled in this clash for over a decade, losing 12 of 16 matches since 2004