Blood and Thunder The long off-season wait is nearly over and Manly fans will be turning to the east with eager anticipation of their teamÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s fortunes as Round One of the NRL kicks off this weekend. On paper a clash between the 13th and 14th placed sides of the previous season would do little to tantalise. However both Manly and the Warriors have splashed the cash around to bring in players to address the problems of the previous season and there is every chance that this match will provide a very good gauge about whether the gap between the NRLÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s penthouse and the basement has lessened over the summer. The Warriors fell apart last season. One win away from the 2003 Grand Final they self destructed with player tensions seeing off the most successful coach in the clubÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s history. A young side struggled with the off-field distractions and their discipline deserted them as the Warriors limped through a horror season. In response they signed seasoned stars (and respected leaders) in the form of Steven Price from the Bulldogs and Ruben Wiki from the Raiders. They also signed Nathan Fien, the half back that inspired the Cowboys through their exhilarating finals charge last year. Manly have signed toughness and respect in the form of Ben Kennedy from the Newcastle Knights and versatile origin forward Brent Kite from the Dragons. They also replaced Andrew Walker with the promising Michael Witt after the former was suspended for drug use. All were signatures aimed at improving ManlyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s porous defence which leaked a record 754 points through the previous year. Now the two sides will collide with a display of trans-Tasman pyrotechnics which will be beamed back to Australia with tsunami like intensity. What exactly can we expect? I think you will find that the match will provide a valuable insight into the fortunes of both forward packs this year. The Warriors have retained the skilful core of bruising Polynesians that cut a swathe through Canterbury in the 2003 finals seasons in Fauimuina, Koopu, Betham and Villisanti. However, they have added a harder edge and more discipline in the form of the two tireless campaigners, Price and Wiki. If their combinations click this is a pack that is sure to strike fear into most teams in the NRL. The pack is rounded off by the silken play making scores of Fien. Kite and Kennedy join up with a pack that has a number of individuals that have been long on promise but, so far, short on delivery. Jason King, Anthony Watmough and Sam Harris have been tipped to achieve big things in the game but have been held back through injury and the lack of confidence that comes from playing in an inconsistent side. These impact players are complemented by the tireless workhorse Daniel Heckenberg and the hard-hitting Kylie Leuluai. Shane Dunley is a shock inclusion ahead of Chad Randall at hooker but he has shown toughness and durability in recent trials. With two monster packs set to collide and establish up-front supremacy for the season it is likely that we will see some huge collisions and fierce confrontation in the opening stanza of the game. It is quite likely that off season frustrations might end up in fisticuffs with both sides having a reputation for being quick to throw a punch. In the halves the sides are relatively evenly matched. With playmaker Stacey Jones fully fit and ready to fire and a quicksilver Lance Hohaia there to capitalise on holes, the Manly defence will need to be on their guard. Manly captain Michael Monaghan also showed some outstanding play making skills at the end of last year and Witt has been solid in a crisis for Parramatta in recent years and has shown good trial form. Both sets of halves will be hoping for their forwards to get on top to provide space and options for them late in each half. However, it is as the big men tire and holes start to appear that the Warriors might prove to have the edge. Manly were dealt a cruel blow when Chris Hicks, their best player of 2004, was forced out of the match with injury. This leaves their threadbare outside backs corps facing a fearsome line up sprinkled with Internationals in the form of Meli, Toopi and Webb. In contrast Manly will have a 1990s meets the future feel with veterans Terry Hill and John Hopoate teaming up with youngsters Paul Stephenson and Brett Stewart. As much as I hate to admit, it seems to me as though the Warriors will have too much firepower out wide to capitalise on a disjointed and defensively challenged Manly backline. Expect some fierce confrontations up front for much of the match but for the Warriors to strike at regular intervals to romp away to a fairly comfortable win. Warriors by 20. Key match ups: Dunley versus Fien: Dunley is a confrontational player that will hit hard in defence and look to snipe out of dummy half. Fien will probably be protected in the defensive line but will create options in attack and will keep the Manly defensive line guessing, a vulnerability that was frequently exposed last year. Jones versus Monaghan: The battle of the halves could go a long way to deciding this game. Jones will be looking to exploit the slow-moving defence of controversial winger Hopoate with his kicking game whilst Monaghan will be looking for gaps as the Warriors start to tire. Hill versus Toopi: Toopi had a disappointing season last year but on his day is one of the most dangerous centres in the game. Hill has not suited up in the Centres for a number of years. If he is able to keep up with and hold Toopi it could go a long way towards inspiring the young Eagles to a surprising first up win.