They’ve spent the bulk of their careers playing in different positions and had just one training run together in the lead up to Thursday’s NRL clash with South Sydney.
But Manly coach Trent Barrett is maintaining his faith that the class of unlikely halves pairing Apisai Koroisau and Dylan Walker will shine through in the absence of star halfback Daly Cherry-Evans.
With Cherry-Evans expected to miss the next month with a high ankle sprain, much of the side’s fate will depend on Koroisau and Walker and their ability to fire the Sea Eagles’ attack.
After luring Walker from South Sydney late last year, Barrett is attempting to mould the former Test centre into a five-eighth and has had mixed results across the opening four rounds.
Koroisau, who won a premiership at hooker for Souths in 2014, started the year at No.9 but Barrett has backed his limited experience as a playmaker.
The 23-year-old played a handful of games in the halves during his time at Penrith last year, where Barrett served as an assistant coach, and has been used at five-eighth in NSW Cup over the past fortnight after being dropped.
He also ran there during the pre-season.
To make their task more difficult, Koroisau and Walker had just one training session together, at Wednesday’s captain’s run, due to Manly’s five-day turnaround after beating the Sydney Roosters last Saturday.
“We’ll iron out a few things and the big focus for us tomorrow night is defence,” Barrett said.
Thursday’s clash will be Walker’s first against his former club since his acrimonious split and Barrett admitted the occasion will be at the back of his charge’s mind.
Manly will be boosted by the return of big men Martin Taupau and Brenton Lawrence with the battle of the forward packs shaping as key.
Last week without superstar Sam Burgess, the Rabbitohs’ pack was exposed in their 42-12 loss to Canterbury.
While Burgess is considered the side’s talisman, the Rabbitohs in fact have a better winning percentage (20 off 33, 60.6 per cent) when he is missing than when he is playing (58 of 99, 58.6 per cent) during his time at the club.
Souths coach Michael Maguire refused to concede Burgess’ absence, due to a neck injury, was a factor in their mauling at the hands of the Dogs.
And he warned they would be rolled by the Manly pack if they failed to turn up mentally again at Brookvale Oval on Thursday.
“We need to rectify things because we’re going into a game that’s going to be very similar,” Maguire said.
“Manly have got a pack that will try to move us around and play through us and it’s up to our pack to counteract what’s going on. We weren’t able to do that on the weekend.”
STATS THAT MATTER
* Manly have won eight of their past 10 against the Rabbitohs at Brookvale, and 15 of 19 since the 1990s.
* South Sydney have been fast starters this season, scoring 36 points in the opening 20 minutes of matches, the equal most of any team. Manly have scored just eight points in this period, the equal fewest of any team.
* South Sydney forward Sam Burgess will play his 100th NRL game this week.
Source: Fox Sports Stats