he Newcastle Knights did Des Hasler and his Bulldogs outfit no favours as they head to Brookvale Oval for Friday night’s blockbuster clash with the Sea Eagles.
I would imagine that the former Manly boss would have much rather come up against his old team after they had come off anything but a 26-point loss.
Good sides invariably react very positively to such a defeat and Des knows better than anybody what quality he left on the north side.
That’s not to say that the reigning premiers played particularly poorly at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night, they were just beaten by an outstanding team in front of an inspiring home crowd.
The most impressive part of the Knights’ performance was how they took control of the game in the opening minutes and never looked like relinquishing it for the rest of the contest.
While their effort in beating the Wests Tigers comfortably in round 16 after overcoming an early 14-point deficit was excellent, last weekend’s victory was a more complete performance and undoubtedly their best of the season.
In Manly’s defence they did go into the match without three of their more influential members in Brett and Glenn Stewart and Steve Matai and they will be sweating on this trifecta being ready for the match-up against the Dogs.
It was a continuation of the Eagles’ inability to field their very best line-up all at the same time this year.
Ironically they have used just 23 players in the top grade, which is the lowest of any club, but they have been without the services of the likes of Kieran Foran, Tony Williams, David Williams, Matai and the Stewart brothers for extended periods due to both injury and suspension.
Canterbury have also used a minimum of personnel in 25, with 10 players having played every game and another two missing just the one clash.
They have also recruited shrewdly in recent times by strengthening their outside back stocks.
What odds eight weeks ago that Krisnan Inu and Sam Perrett would be part of Canterbury’s push to the finals?
However, if Sam Kasiano fails to beat his one-match ban at tonight’s judiciary hearing the side suffers an enormous (no pun intended) loss.
The giant 21 year-old has had a remarkable impact and has developed into the spearhead of their formidable and skilful forward rotation.
He is invariably the first receiver in either hitting the ball up or initiating their short passing game before the defensive line.
His absence will have a domino effect on those teammates who have “fed” off him this year, especially Frank Pritchard, who has revelled in taking advantage of the damage Sam has already inflicted.
If he is rubbed out tonight the obvious replacement would be James Graham, who is also enjoying a bumper season, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Hasler opts not to change a winning formula.
The Englishman has been superb coming into the game off the bench after the opening 20 minutes and staying on for the duration, and it may well be that another front-row option is called upon to start proceedings.
The home side will also be desperate that the Stewart boys get to take their place as the Eagles are a much more dangerous proposition when they are in the side.
Brett has earned his title as the “prince of Brookvale” on the back of his uncanny ability to score tries, especially on his home track.
He has now crossed for 62 tries from 67 games at Brookie, which is more than half of the 120 tries he has scored from his 151 appearances in total.
Still, it is not often he comes up against an opponent who boasts a similar strike rate as he does on Friday in the shape of Ben Barba.
The fresh-faced whiz-kid has now racked up 52 four-pointers from just 70 matches and been an integral part of plenty more.
In fact he is definitely the main reason that Canterbury have scored the most tries from inside their own half of any team this season.
Many of these have come down their left side in attack where they are statistically the most dangerous in the league.
With Manly it is their right side which is more successful than any other team, especially with Glenn Stewart calling the shots alongside Daly Cherry-Evans and Jamie Lyon.
Then there is the battle between the two No.6s, Kieran Foran and Josh Reynolds.
If you ever needed an example of what is a true “footballer”, you only need to watch these young men go about their business. Every fibre of their being is a competitive one and they are never guilty of waiting for the contest to come to them.
As a result of this fierce will to win and a natural ability to play the game, the involvement of this duo will go a long way in determining which side goes on to be successful.
So much to look forward to and I’ve only barely touched on the return of one of Manly’s favourite sons now wearing the black hat.
Des Hasler’s 255 first-grade appearances as a player and his two premiership triumphs as a coach will count for nought when he is in the visitor’s box at his old stamping ground.
Relationships rarely end well, or they wouldn’t end, and the Sea Eagles faithful can carry a grudge with the best of them.