Lyon facing challenge to assume BK's leading role

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Lyon facing challenge to assume BK's leading role

Punishing pre-season has me in career-best shape, says Lyon
MANLY coach Des Hasler admits he isn't yet sure whether Jamie Lyon will prove to be as valuable to the Sea Eagles as Ben Kennedy.

The great debate surrounding the club is whether, although Lyon is a Test player who still has many years of potentially great football ahead of him, the Sea Eagles have still lost more than they have gained because of the retirement of Kennedy, who joined the club as a veteran but had two great years in closing.

It's a reflection of the enormous influence Kennedy had on the team, rather than anything negative about Lyon. They are different personalities and different styles of players. Kennedy was a lock. Lyon made his name at centre and will be tried at five-eighth.

Lyon, in his own way, needs to make his mark on the Sea Eagles like Kennedy did, if the team, after returning to the finals in 2005 and improving again last year, is to remain a major competitive force.

"It's a fair question," Hasler says, when asked about the debate. "Lyon is a great player, a world-class player, but he has been out of the NRL for a couple of years and he has got some real challenges ahead of him. What I can say, though, is that his attitude and application during the pre-season says he is rising to those challenges, so I'm very confident in him."

While Kennedy, whose head would be next to the word passion if league had a pictorial dictionary, is gone, Hasler says he is not forgotten by his former teammates and that, particularly in the younger forwards whom Kennedy nurtured, some BK has rubbed off.

"Kennedy is a big loss," Hasler said. "Exactly how much I don't know, at this stage, but that is what happens in football. Players don't last forever and clubs are confronting the loss of great players all the time. The positive thing for us is that Ben has left a great legacy.

"Everyone playing in the NRL works hard and is strong and is a terrific athlete, but then there are those really special players who have something extra. Ben had a fantastic work ethic and incredible passion and motivation. He demanded an enormous amount from myself and those around him and the other players tried to give that to him.

"The younger players learned from him and I can tell from their off-season preparation that they are trying to bring that attitude to their game again this season."

The presence of Steve Bell and Steve Matai in the centres has given Hasler the option of using Lyon at five-eighth, where he played towards the end of his second season with English club St Helens, last year, but the coach says he is keeping an open mind on where the former Parramatta star will be best suited.

"We can chop and change," he says. "We'll have a look at Jamie at five-eighth during the trials, but we'll see how a few other combinations go as well.

"If a player is already world-class in one position it's possible he can step up and be world-class in another position, like Darren Lockyer did [switching from fullback to five-eighth with Brisbane], but we'll have to wait and see. Travis Burns did well at five-eighth for us last year and he's a young player who is still improving, so we've got options.

"Injuries and representative commitments will test our depth and play a part in the decision-making on where to use players. Each club is dealt certain cards during a season and it's how you handle it, but I'm very happy with our depth."

BEST LINE-UP

1 Brett Stewart


2 Chris Hicks

3 Steve Bell

4 Steve Matai

5 Michael Robertson

6 Jamie Lyon

7 Matt Orford

13 Luke Williamson

12 Steve Menzies

11 Anthony Watmough

10 Jason King

9 Michael Monaghan

8 Brent Kite

Interchange

14 Shayne Dunley

15 Glenn Stewart

16 George Rose

17 Mark Bryant

IN A NUTSHELL

PLAYER WHO MUST FIRE

Jamie Lyon: He wasn't signed as a direct replacement for Ben Kennedy but, if Manly are to take a crack at the title, Lyon must have a similarly big influence.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Anthony Watmough: He's no rookie - he has played Origin for NSW - but last year was disappointing for him. Manly need him to step up and become a team leader.

2006 FINISH

Fifth. Eliminated in second week of the finals.

BETTING (TAB Sportsbet)

$13 to win premiership, $1.65 to make top eight.

IF THEY WERE A MOVIE

Braveheart: Hero William Wallace departs at the end of the movie and along comes Robert the Bruce to take his place. Out goes Kennedy, in comes Lyon.
 

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