MANLY coach Geoff Toovey regarded Brisbane as one of the leading contenders for the premiership before the season began -- and nothing he has seen over the past five weeks has changed his mind.
"They're a real quality side," Toovey said. "I tipped them at the beginning of the year to be a real danger in the competition and I still believe that."
Manly and Brisbane will meet at Brookvale Oval tomorrow night with the respective sides heading in different directions.
The Sea Eagles have won their past four games to move into the top four. The Broncos have lost their past five, leaving their top-eight hopes in jeopardy. But Toovey believes they have enough quality to be a threat despite the greater importance put on a top-four finish under the new finals system.
"They have a lot of great young talent, particularly in their back row," Toovey said.
"Melbourne were in the same situation a month or so ago as well and their form (since) has been pretty good. They (Brisbane) have got quality players and all you need is a bit of luck and the footy gods to smile on you, as they did with us. We turned our season around against the Warriors, had a bit of luck and things have picked up since then."
Manly forward Glenn Stewart added: "They have big-game players in their side. But in saying that, we're at our home ground. We relish being back at Brookvale."
Manly's cause will he helped by an improvement in the injury list in recent days. Of the four players injured in the win over Newcastle last weekend, only David Williams is ruled out after a season-ending knee injury.
Utility Jamie Buhrer is expected to play after overcoming concussion while hooker Matt Ballin's calf injury is healing. Jason King is in doubt with a shoulder injury and, with the finals a fortnight away, Toovey will take no risks with his co-captain.
While Brisbane desperately needs a win to revive its hopes, Manly also is under pressure. A loss would leave the defending premiers in danger of losing their top-four spot -- North Queensland can pass them if Manly loses and the Cowboys beat Newcastle in Townsville on Saturday night.
As for momentum, Toovey acknowledges winning form is good form heading into the finals. That said, he says his side can overcome a loss in its remaining two games and still give the premiership a shake. "You only have to win two and you're in the grand final once you're there. That's the way the system is. If you find the right form at the right time, and make grand final day, anything can happen."
Toovey refuses to discount Broncos
AT THE start of the season, Manly coach Geoff Toovey tipped Brisbane as one of the teams to beat and, despite the Broncos losing five on the trot, his opinion has not changed.
Toovey believes his side will feel the brunt of a Brisbane resurgence at Brookvale Oval tomorrow night, and he has refused to look at the form guide before his side's clash with the seventh-placed Broncos.
''They're a real quality side, and I tipped them at the start of the year to be the real danger side of the competition, and I still believe that,'' Toovey said. ''They've got a lot of great young talent, in particularly in their back row, with some experience in the side as well.
''Melbourne were in the same situation a month ago as well, and their form has been pretty good since. They've got quality players, and all you need is a bit of luck and the footy gods to smile on you, as they did with us against the Warriors when we had a bit of luck. Things have picked up since then.''
The Sea Eagles are still uncertain whether Jason King (shoulder), Anthony Watmough (knee) and Matt Ballin (calf) will play after suffering injuries in last weekend's win against the Knights.
Jamie Buhrer (concussion) is expected to be given the all-clear, but David Williams (knee) will miss the remainder of the season in what Toovey described as ''devastating for him and the club''. Ballin was put through his paces yesterday, and is likely to decide this afternoon on whether to take the field against the Broncos.
''It's getting there - I had a little run today and we'll probably wait until tomorrow to decide whether I'll be right for the game,'' Ballin said yesterday. ''I haven't really run flat out so tomorrow I'll run flat out, and if I'm not right I won't play. But if it feels good I will.''
Injuries and suspensions of key players have prevented the Sea Eagles building any sort of momentum during the season.
They have now won four consecutive matches, and Toovey is happy his side is starting to get into the groove at the business end of the season.
''We've played some good footy at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year,'' he said. ''We were a bit lost in the middle but I think we're coming good at the right time of year.
''It's an incredibly tight race for positions in that top-eight slot so it's important [to win this week]. It's not the be-all and end-all but it'd be great to finish in that top four, and to do that and take out all those other sides we need to win both games.''
The Broncos touched down in Sydney on Tuesday night, hoping a finals-style build-up would help end a horrific five weeks. Josh McGuire (eye) and Alex Glenn (hamstring) travelled with the team and are expected to play.