Manly coach Trent Barrett has swung the axe after his side’s limp start to the NRL season as they face a stern examination against Cronulla on Monday night.
As well as getting set to welcome back star fullback Brett Stewart, Barrett has axed premiership-winning hooker Apisai Koroisau and utility Nathan Green after back-to-back losses in the opening fortnight.
Tom Symonds, who was rumoured to be on the outer at the club after starting the year in reserve grade, and Feliti Mateo are expected to come into the side to take on the Sharks at Brookvale Oval.
Highly-rated former Brisbane hooker Matt Parcell looks set to be the side’s sole hooker after sharing the dummy-half duties with Koroisau in the first two rounds.
The raft of changes comes in the face of Barrett’s defence of his side after worrying losses to Canterbury and Wests Tigers.
“Combinations are a big thing and we’re still settling on combinations within the team,” Barrett said.
“We did miss Brett Stewart; he’s a terrific leader and he does help our organisation.
“But to have a new hooker and new fullback and new halves combination, we were probably a bit naive to think it was going to click straight away.
“The players have belief in what they’re doing and what we are doing.
“We can’t waiver from that. Any outside influences, remarks or media reports are not going to help us in here.
“We are going to have to be really solid, stick together, and keep working hard.”
Despite all of Manly’s woes, Cronulla face a massive uphill battle to win their second in a row at Brookvale, which has been a graveyard for the Sharks since their inception in 1967.
The Sharks have won just six of 38 games against Manly at Brookvale and have been victorious in just one of their last 13 meetings between the two sides, suffering a particularty costly home loss to the Sea Eagles in last year’s final round.
Prop Andrew Fifita said he wasn’t reading anything into the Sea Eagles’ early form, pointing to the class in their line-up.
“Last year we lost our first four games and we (ended up) one game away from the top four,” Fifita said.
“I think it’s a really big challenge for them but we have to take it to them and we have to take it to their fortress.”
STATS THAT MATTER
* The Sharks have a horrible Monday night record away from Shark Park, losing 12 straight matches.
* Manly have not lost their first three matches of a season since losing four straight in 2009.
* Manly’s loss to Canterbury in round one was their third consecutive defeat at Brookvale Oval, the first time this has happened since 2005.
Source: Fox Sports Stats