Sea Eagles ready for quick jump in 2008

  • by AAP
  • March 12 2008 5:27AM

Test fullback Brett Stewart insists Manly are fitter and stronger than last season and ready for another early NRL onslaught.

The Sea Eagles won 10 of their first 11 games last year to be the early pace-setters and Stewart on Tuesday declared the 2008 side ready to be equally devastating in the opening rounds of the competition.

"We've had a pretty good pre-season, we are probably in a better position now than we were at the start of the last season," he said.

"Our fitness and skills and the way we are training, I think we are looking better than we were this time last year."

Manly will face Cronulla at Brookvale Oval on Saturday night, Stewart set to make his comeback from post-season knee surgery after missing both trial matches last month.

The 23-year-old had a limited pre-season, but used his time rehabilitating from surgery to increase his lean muscle mass in the gym, adding 1.5 kilograms to his frame.

Perhaps more importantly for the Sea Eagles, the added weight hasn't reduced the prolific tryscorer's blinding speed.

"I've put on about a kilo and a half and kept my speed, so the coaching staff is pretty happy with that," he said.

"I probably spent a little bit more time in the gym than usual.

"I've been doing full contact for about five weeks or so now. All my strength is back and all the pain (in my knee) is gone as well so I'm pretty happy with it.

"I was still getting a couple of little bits of pain probably three or four weeks ago so (coach Des Hasler) didn't want to risk it in a couple of trials."

Stewart was on Tuesday named in a near-full strength Sea Eagles line-up, with new recruits David Vaealiki and Josh Perry plus hooker Matt Ballin and winger Michael Bani the additions to last year's losing grand final side.

Vaealiki replaces injured Test centre Steve Matai, Bani and Ballin replace departed duo Chris Hicks and Michael Monaghan while former NSW prop Perry's inclusion is at the expense of Jack Afamasaga.

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