Manly have been one of the elite teams of the NRL for the past two months but haven’t yet convinced coach Geoff Toovey they belong in the finals.
Sitting last after 16 rounds, the Sea Eagles have gone on a stunning surge since June to be one win outside the top eight.
But Toovey is wary to pump up his side’s tyres.
This is despite premiership favourites the Sydney Roosters and fast-finishing Cronulla being the only sides to have scored more wins since round 15, according to Fox Sports Stats.
Five wins from six matches have put wind in their sails and big victories over top four teams Brisbane and South Sydney have proven they can go toe to toe with the competition’s best.
But Toovey is still waiting for more proof.
Asked on Friday if they are beginning to think of themselves as top eight contenders, Toovey said: “Not at this stage.”
“We need to win the remaining matches and we’ll do that hopefully starting with this weekend.
“We’ve been in great form and the players have really stepped up but it’s no good to us if we don’t back up last week.”
Both Manly and Canberra go into Sunday’s showdown at GIO Stadium in the same position – a loss will likely kill off their finals hopes.
With tough games against the Roosters and Sharks in the final rounds, the Sea Eagles need every premiership point they can muster.
They have been left to rue their slow start in which they lost nine of their opening 12.
Toovey now concedes a stream of dramas, including the Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran contract sagas and speculation about his own future, exacted a toll.
“There’s no doubt, when you have several key players coming off-contract and going to other clubs,” Toovey said.
“But that’s the world we live in now, where you can sign a deal way in advance. It is a bit distracting for fans and their teammates.”