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Likely squad: Brett Stewart, Michael Robertson, Steven Bell, Ashley Alberts, Chris Hicks, Travis Burns, Matt Orford, Brent Kite, Michael Monaghan, Jason King, Anthony Watmough, Steve Menzies, Ben Kennedy
Interchange: Shayne Dunley, Kylie Leuluai, George Rose, Luke Williamson
Manly?s forwards are strong and versatile, meaning that they will be mobile in attack and defence. This is a great attribute to have in a forward pack. With experienced campaigners like Kennedy and Menzies along with exciting talent like Anthony Watmough, the Manly forward pack is one to be feared in the NRL.
Matt Orford is an obvious strength for the Manly club. Not since Geoff Toovey has the Manly club had a halfback that is good enough to lead them to a premiership.
Brett Stewart is one of the most exciting fullbacks in the game. He possesses electrifying pace and can score a try from anywhere on the field. Only his poor defensive errors prevent him from being the complete fullback package.
Matt Orford?s combination with Steven Bell will be crucial for Manly?s success this season. Bell was one of the leading line breakers in the NRL in 2005 and Manly will be hoping that continues in 2006. Orford has a great combination with Bell and if that continues, Manly will score plenty of points in 2006 on the back of it.
Manly?s backline apart from Bell and Stewart still looks rather fragile. Chris Hicks, Michael Robertson and Ashley Alberts are not exactly the type of players to strike fear into the hearts of their opposition numbers. For Manly to succeed they will need for Ashley Alberts to finally realise his potential as a player or hope of securing Jamie Lyon in 2007.
Manly may have two of their key positions covered for 2006 in their fullback and halfback, but they do not have stable options for five-eighth and hooker. Travis Burns may be an exciting young talent but he is untried at NRL level and Michael Monaghan is a player that could be low on confidence in a new position. This could be a problem for Manly in 2006.
Des Hasler is not the best coach going around in NRL circles, but even he has to recognise the lack of depth currently at Manly. If Orford was to become injured, they do have the options available to counter that. However, Manly may lack available options to effectively replace key players in other key positions.
One to Watch:
Travis Burns is a product of Texas in Qld. The light footed five-eighth/halfback will be looking to link up in a halves combination with Matt Orford this season as the opportunity to shine now presents itself. With Michael Witt seemingly looking like he?ll never play First Grade again due to defensive lapses, the opportunity for young Travis to cement a First Grade spot has heightened.
The talented playmaker made a couple of appearances in 2005 which set him up to be one of the better prospects to come out of Manly in recent years. In his few appearances he was cool under pressure and had a good kicking game. He still has room to develop his game a lot more and I?m sure with a good halfback at his side in Matt Orford we will see the best of Travis Burns in 2006.
Gains and Losses:
Gains: Matt Orford, Steve Bell, Michael Robertson, George Rose.
Losses: Terry Hill, Chad Randall, Scott Donald, Sam Harris, Jye Mullane, Nathan Hollingsworth.
I believe Manly have the halfback, fullback and forward pack in order to win the competition, but I don?t believe they can do it with the existing players in the #6 and #9 jerseys. Manly will be competitive in 2006 and will more than likely repeat their top 8 effort this season, however I don?t believe they have the required strike power or creativity in key positions to take out the 2006 NRL Premiership.
My Prediction ? 6th-10th.