Manly out to prove they belong in NRL race

Manly will have their NRL premiership credentials put to the test against the Sydney Roosters.
Manly will have their NRL premiership credentials put to the test against the Sydney Roosters.

Manly must overcome a horror record against the NRL's remaining finalists dating back almost 18 months to remain in title contention.

In clashes against the competition's elite since last year's shutdown, the Sea Eagles have only claimed wins in three games - all against Parramatta.

Otherwise their record sits at a shocking 0-9 since the game restarted last May, losing each match by an average of 27.78.

That they were able to finish fourth made them the first side since Brisbane in 1995 to finish so high on the ladder without beating a top-five side.

It bodes for a tough finals run for Manly after last week's heavy loss to the Storm, as they fight off with the Sydney Roosters in Friday night's semi-final for a right to take on South Sydney in the preliminary.

But all is not necessarily as it seems.

Manly have had Tom Trbojevic for just three of those nine losses, with the fullback the most influential player in the competition.

Their formline against both South Sydney and the Roosters is also near-impossible to read, given they have not played either since the opening two rounds.

Such is the difference between the Tricolours' 46-4 round-one flogging of Manly and the current situation, six Roosters who played in that game will not be available on Friday night.

That match was Jake Friend's last, while Brett Morris has since been forced to retire and Joey Manu and Luke Keary are also among those missing.

By contrast, Manly were without Trbojevic and did not feature game-breakers like Josh Schuster and Haumole Olakau'atu.

So drastic is the change, Des Hasler has gone from under fire to a contender for Dally M coach of the year.

"The teams are so different it's really hard to compare and being round one of a 25-round season," Manly captain Daly Cherry-Evans said.

"I just think their game's developed so much so I don't think we'll have a whole lot to take out of the last game against them.

"But certainly we'll pick apart the last couple of weeks that they've played to get a really good read of what sort of footy they're going to throw at us."

Manly also nudged out the Roosters 9-8 in their last clash with Trbojevic involved - in round two last year just before the lockdown.

The Roosters are also well aware Manly are a different outfit with Trbojevic on the field.

"It's been good to watch and now we're up against it," Roosters No.1 James Tedesco said.

"We haven't (played) him all year so now we've got to keep him quiet.

"It's a big job for us as a whole defensive line to make sure him and their halves don't control the game like they've done in so many of their games they've won."

Australian Associated Press