Smash the Bastards- Desmond

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The finals begin now for Manly

Greg Prichard | August 20, 2007

THE challenge for premiership contenders Manly against South Sydney tonight - as set by coach Des Hasler - is to tackle with finals-like ferocity against one of the biggest line-ups in the NRL.

"We really want to test our tackle against Souths," Hasler said last night. "They have a bunch of big, raw-boned blokes who play a very physical game."

He named Souths prop Roy Asotasi and interchange forward Dean Widders as players in form and hard to stop. Not to mention "a couple of handy wingers who are each around 100kg".

"They're a powerful team," Hasler said. "We want to make sure the force of our tackle is where it should be for a big game like this and for the big games ahead. We have to hit with power and keep that force going right through the process of getting the ball-carrier on the ground and making sure we dominate in the play-the-ball area.

"It's a great opportunity for us to test ourselves in this game and again in the game against the Warriors in Auckland on Sunday, when we'll be playing against another big, powerful team."

Last weekend, Hasler challenged his players to dominate the first half against Newcastle, following slow starts in their previous few games. They responded by blitzing the Knights to lead 26-0 at half-time and went on to win 50-16.

Manly beat Souths 14-2 in the rain at Brookvale Oval in round 14 and if yesterday's weather holds, it will be wet for the return encounter at Telstra Stadium. Hasler is expecting a fierce contest, particularly since the ninth-placed Rabbitohs will climb into the top eight if they win.

Souths have been fantastic in defence this season. They are not a high-scoring team, but Hasler remains wary of their potential in attack.

"[Nathan] Merritt at fullback gives them a lot more strike," he said. "[Joe] Williams has a good kicking game, too, so they can certainly put the opposition under pressure."

Manly halfback Matt Orford is in huge doubt for the game with a thigh injury. If he is ruled out today, Michael Monaghan will switch from hooker to No.7 and Matt Ballin will be promoted from the bench to start at hooker.

"We thought the 10-day turn-around from our last game would give 'Ox' time to recover," Hasler said. "But he's still getting over it. We'll see how he is in the morning and make a decision then. If he wasn't quite right then we wouldn't want to risk him making the injury worse."

Monaghan has moved back to his old position to cover for Orford in the past and he says switching between the two roles does not present any great problem for him.

"I'm still thinking that Ox will play, but if I was to end up there, it would be OK," Monaghan said last night. "I've played a lot of halfback. The workload is actually a bit lighter there than it is at hooker."

Monaghan said the Sea Eagles were still trying to reach the kind of form that could take them all the way to winning the grand final. "We've still got a fair bit of improvement in us," he said. "We aren't playing the type of football that will win the comp. We're looking for a finals-type performance against Souths."

Souths second-rower David Fa'alogo has been ruled out with a back injury. Coach Jason Taylor added Jaiman Lowe to his squad, but was yet to declare who would start in Fa'alogo's place.


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