THE weight of the Sea Eagles’ season is weighing down on Manly coach Des Hasler with three players emerging as genuine long-term replacements for super-star fullback Brett Stewart.
Des Hasler casts a troubled shadow at Sea Eagles training yesterday.Picture: ANNIKA ENDERBORG
The 26-year-old Manly No.1 has been ruled out for five months with a serious knee injury.
Stewart will undergo surgery on his left knee next week, with the club hopeful he will return by round 20.
The former NSW and Australian fullback is shattered about his injury. Winger Michael Robertson has already been named at fullback for Sunday’s clash with the Eels at Parramatta Stadium.
But it has also emerged utility back Ben Farrar and teenager William Hopoate are definite options for Hasler this year. As revealed in Tuesday’s Manly Daily, 17-year-old Hopoate is an option for the coach. His father, John, backed his son to fill Stewart’s void.
“I think he could handle the step up, but that’s coming from a dad,” Hopoate said.
“He never seems to get nervous and can always seem to go out there and play well.
“When he was playing SG Ball (under-18s) people were saying he was too young for the 20s (Toyota Cup), but he stepped up and did well. Now he’s being talked about for first grade and people might think he’s not ready, but maybe he should get a go.”
It was a belief shared by Manly co-captain Jamie Lyon at Narrabeen on Tuesday.
“He’s a great prospect, he’s got a big future and he’s a great kid,” Lyon said of young Hopoate. “I think if he gets a shot this weekend, it would be good for him.”
Hasler indicated Hopoate will get a crack in 2010, but will have to tangle with Robertson and Farrar for the job.
“We’ve got Michael Robertson, Ben Farrar and young Hoppa. Farrar and Robertson would probably have the edge in experience over Will, but that’s not to say that at some stage during the year he won’t get a shot at it,” Hasler said after revealing the extent of Stewart’s injury. “And he would be more than ready to take that chance.”
The Sea Eagles were optimistic that Stewart’s absence would not derail their campaign.
``Manly has always got its detractors, we’ll see how we go,” Lyon said.
“He’s (Stewart) shattered. He went through it last year, but I suppose he’s used to it. It’s definitely a big blow, but we’ve got a little bit of depth there.”
Hooker Matt Ballin said the experience of losing Stewart for most of last season will aid them this time over the coming 19 weeks.
“We just have to go on without him and make the most of the year,” Ballin said.
“We’ve evolved as a team without him and not having to rely on him last year, that’s put us in good stead.”
****THE Sea Eagles took the early guilty plea on all three of their players charged with careless high tackles from Monday night’s loss to the Tigers. However, prop George Rose was the only one to pick-up a suspension, banned for one match for his high shot.