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After slow-burning season, Sea Eagles are getting respect, says Stewart

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Des Hasler is long gone from Brookvale but his radar remains.

A master of subterfuge, Manly's coach for their grand final wins in 2008 and 2011 was famously fond of his team maintaining a low profile even when it was entrenched near the top of the premiership ladder. Glenn Stewart, Manly's lock, is careful not to trot out that the Sea Eagles have once again ''flown under the radar'' this season but agrees Geoff Toovey's side has been underestimated right up until its defeat of South Sydney last Friday night.

''The facts are that we really weren't spoken about a great deal until even last week. Even then we weren't given much of a shot,'' Stewart said ahead of Sunday's grand final, where he and brother Brett will chase a third title.

''But that sits fine with us. Inside our own playing group and staff we don't really worry about that at all. We know if we turn up every week and give it a go, we're a fair chance of knocking off every side.''

The sleeping giant of the competition no more, everyone is now well and truly awake to what the Sea Eagles have up their sleeve. Bringing the Rabbitohs' lofty ambitions down with an almighty thud at ANZ Stadium made sure of that, but Stewart understands why Manly were not rated by many as a genuine premiership force until recently given their results against leading rivals this season.

Until the round-25 win over Melbourne at Brookvale Oval, they hadn't beaten the NRL's top three teams - the Sydney Roosters, Souths and the Storm - all year.


''I think early on in the season we weren't getting many raps because we weren't beating the top four teams,'' Stewart said. ''But we weren't far off either. I think a lot of the time if the results had have just gone the other way, then maybe we would have got a bit more recognition.'' The respect has arrived belatedly and Manly face the Roosters on Sunday with Stewart adamant they do not need to change a thing from their 4-0 defeat to the minor premiers in the first week of the semi-finals.

''Hopefully we can do exactly the same,'' he said. ''We get Brett back [from injury] and he's normally worth a couple of tries to us - if he's not scoring them he's setting them up. He may have been the difference in the last game. Not to take anything away from Peta Hiku because he's been great for us, but Brett just adds that little bit of flair and experience.''

If Manly's season has been a slow burner then Stewart's own journey to the grand final has not been without its bruises. The knee and arm problems that have troubled him have meant playing through pain.

''The first probably six to eight weeks was a pretty big battle for me, with just a lack of strength in my knee. It affects other parts of your game you don't realise. With a crook knee you're a bit slow and it affects your agility. But the last few weeks, apart from normal soreness, it's actually been really good.''