Sea Eagles need to put bite on Dogs forwards
It was Des Hasler's stomping ground for more than 25 years, but rookie Manly coach Trent Barrett plans to make his debut at Brookvale Oval a memorable one against the heavyweight Bulldogs tonight.
Barrett, the NRL's new kid on the block, could lose star fullback Brett Stewart (hamstring) for the clash, but has boom youngster Tom Trbojevic on standby. The latest update on Stewart was he was rated a 50-50 chance of playing.
Hasler has haunted Manly since he left for the Bulldogs' kennel in 2012.
The former Manly great has won his last four encounters against his old club, for which he played 255 NRL games (1984-96) and coached for more than 200 games (2004-11).
"They've still got some experienced players and still look an imposing side," said Hasler, whose career coaching record with the Dogs against Manly is an impressive 7-3.
Barrett, of course, wasn't involved in any of those losses, and the Sea Eagles have had a major cleanout and re-stocking over summer to help him kick off his career.
Barrett said he expected the Bulldogs, who suffered a big blow through the week with news fullback Brett Morris (knee) would miss the first 16 weeks of the season, to try and smash their way through Manly up the middle with big forwards James Graham, Greg Eastwood, Josh Jackson and former Sea Eagle Tony Williams.
"It seems like a lifetime waiting for this game, but we've prepared very well," said the former St George international, who has placed a big focus on defence since arriving at the club.
"The first thing we need to do is stop the go-forward of Graham and Eastwood, and Jackson and T-Rex (Williams) because (Josh) Reynolds and (Moses) Mbye will play a lot of good footy off the back of them."
Mbye and Reynolds, who has declared he wants an Origin recall for New South Wales, did not play any pre-season trials together which could be a problem for the Dogs.
Manly recruits Nate Myles and Martin Taupau will need to muscle up early to give the backs enough opportunities to score some points.
Former South Sydney star Dylan Walker also makes his debut for Manly in the halves outside Daly Cherry-Evans, a combination Barrett desperately needs to click quickly after the loss of Kiwi international Keiran Foran to Parramatta this season.