Geoff Toovey admits he used to laugh at Des Hasler's antics when he was an assistant to the former Manly mentor. But the new Sea Eagles coach has rubbished Hasler's claims Manly are the NRL's benchmark team and overwhelming favourites ahead of Friday's blockbuster clash at Brookvale Oval.
The Bulldogs are the form team in the NRL having won seven straight games to sit in second spot, while Toovey's charges are precariously placed in seventh after Saturday's 32-6 loss to Newcastle.
Hasler, who repeatedly claimed the Sea Eagles were 'under the radar' during his eight-year reign at the club, has been up to his old tricks this week.
But Toovey turned the heat back on his former team-mate on Wednesday morning, declaring the Bulldogs the competition favourites.
"I suppose if you're winning the comp you've got to be doing something right and that would make you the benchmark wouldn't it?" Toovey said.
"Des is a good throw off in regards to benchmarks but they're on top of the comp and have been playing some really consistent football all year, and we need to match that consistency on Friday if we're any chance of winning."
The match will mark Hasler's return to Brookvale for the first time since his controversial departure in October.
Toovey expects the Brookvale faithful to show respect to their former coach but admits he'd probably throw a few barbs Hasler's way if he was a punter on the hill.
"I'm sure there'll be some heckling but that's rugby league, that's why it's so good," Toovey said.
"I'd love to be a fan sometimes on the hill and join in.
"It's a great atmosphere at Brookvale Oval. There's never any dramas at Brookvale and I don't think there'll be any dramas on Friday.
"I think the fans will treat Des with a lot of respect.
"It'll be a great spectacle and all this stuff adds to that spectacle and I think it's going to be a great contest with some quality football from both sides."
Toovey confirmed full-back Brett Stewart is no chance of playing with a hamstring strain, while his brother Glenn still has to prove his fitness but is expected to return from a knee injury.
"I don't think we want to risk him (Brett) at this stage, he's close but we are erring on the side of caution and probably won't play him this weekend," the coach said.
"(Glenn) is looking good but he hasn't trained with the team yet so we'll still assess that through the week.
"We're hoping that he'll get through the training sessions over the next day or two and be able to play."