Desperate Manly coach Trent Barrett has labelled the round 14 NRL clash against Penrith as a must-win for his embattled side.
Besieged by off-field dramas, injuries and poor form, Manly have hit a rough patch midway through the season.
On the back of match-fixing allegations, a battle with their major sponsor and injuries to key players, Manly also enter the Brookvale Oval match against fellow struggles Penrith on Sunday on a four-game losing streak.
“Yes, it definitely is must-win,” Barrett said.
“There are still enough games to get into the eight, we are only two games away, but this home game against a side on similar points is extremely important.”
Manly are without Daly Cherry-Evans, Jamie Lyon, Steve Matai and Brenton Lawrence due to injuries.
Jorge Taufua, Addin Fonua-Blake, Blake Leary and Liam Knight have been drafted into Barrett’s side.
Matai has been ruled out for the season due to a neck injury, and Barrett says his absence is a big loss.
“Not only on the field but around the place. He is a terrific leader,” he said.
“He has been involved in a lot of successful times here at Manly and we are going to miss him.”
Barrett declined to comment on former coach Geoff Toovey’s claims something might have been amiss in the Sea Eagles’ round 24 loss to Parramatta in 2015
The match is one of two that are the subject of a police investigation into alleged match-fixing.
However, Barrett said the players were coping well with the dramas, another of which emerged this week, with the club locked in a battle with major sponsor CoCo Joy, which is due to land in the NSW Supreme Court in July.
“The players are OK. There have been a few disruptions over the past few weeks but they are in a pretty good head space,” Barrett said.
“They have trained well and we will rip in tomorrow.”
Manly (4-8) sit in 14th place and the 10th-placed Panthers (5-7) are not without their own problems.
Coach Anthony Griffin has dropped key playmakers James Segeyaro and Jamie Soward in successive weeks from his side, who are on a three-game losing streak.
Bryce Cartwright and Nathan Cleary form a makeshift Penrith halves combination for the trek to the northern beaches.
Manly will also sport an untried scrum-base partnership in Dylan Walker and Apisai Koroisau, in his first match against his old side.
“Penrith are a hard side to contain with a lot of offload in them and some second phase so our defence has to be on,” Barrett said.
* Penrith won both meetings between these two sides last season and have won four of the past five, including two from three at Brookvale.
* Manly have the second-worst red zone defence this season, conceding a try on average for every 8.1 tackles that opponents have inside their 20m line.
* Just three of the Panthers’ 12 games this season have been decided by more than five points, with last week’s 18-point loss to Melbourne easily Penrith’s biggest of the season.
* Apisai Koroisau has been named at halfback for Manly and has two wins and two losses when starting in the position.
Source: Fox Sports Stats