Manly coach Trent Barrett has hailed Dylan Walker as a natural five-eighth ahead of the former South Sydney centre’s debut in the Sea Eagles’ halves.
One of the key talking points in the NRL’s opening round is how off-season recruit Walker can combine with Daly Cherry-Evans in their first match together at the scrumbase in Friday night’s clash with Canterbury at Brookvale Oval.
After missing the finals for the first time in 11 years last season, Manly are expected to be one of the NRL’s big movers in 2016.
Under new mentor Barrett, Manly embarked on an impressive spending spree that included the acquisition of Rabbitohs premiership winner and former Kangaroos centre Walker and Test stars Nate Myles and Martin Taupau.
A former Australian and NSW five-eighth, Barrett believes Walker, who played at pivot during a successful junior career, can get the job done.
“He looks very comfortable there,” Barrett said on Thursday.
“There hasn’t been a session when we have looked and `ummed’ and ‘ahhed’ as to whether we have made the right decision.
“He made that decision for us and has made that spot his own. I will give him every chance to be successful.”
“While he and Cherry are not going to be the finished product straight away, they are on the right track.”
Barrett said the duo’s ability to take on the line was set to be one of their biggest strengths.
“We do want Dylan to run, but Cherry can run the ball too,’ Barrett said.
“That is the big thing for us, we have two halves that can threaten the line.”
Derided as soft for much of 2015, the Manly pack has been significantly strengthened by Myles and Taupau while Jake Trbojevic is one of the best emerging forwards in the NRL.
They face a fierce examination first up against the Dogs’ giant pack.
“We have a side that I think can handle them. It is good to have a player with Marty’s power in the side,” Barrett said.
“It is going to be a fair test.”
Bulldogs coach Des Hasler was wary of new-look Manly, his former team.
“With their recruitment they’re certainly a different looking side,” Hasler said.
“They’ve still got that string of players who have that experience and have been around for quite a while.
“But with the recruitment of some new players up front, they’re an imposing-looking side.”
Manly strike weapon Brett Stewart is under an injury cloud due to his hamstring complaint while the Bulldogs will be without fellow fullback Brett Morris (knee) and hard man David Klemmer (suspension).
* The Bulldogs have dominated this match-up recently, winning the past four and seven of the past nine meetings, with Manly’s last win coming in Rd 13, 2014 at Brookvale Oval
* Bulldogs coach Des Hasler has won seven of 10 matches against his former club
* Steve Matai has scored six tries in his past six matches against the Bulldogs at Brookvale Oval.
Source: Fox Sports Stats