Fitness key for Manly ahead of NRL finals - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Fitness key for Manly ahead of NRL finals

By Steve Jancetic 17/08/2011 06:01:17 PM Comments (0)

Manly coach Des Hasler claims Melbourne's injury dramas highlight the importance of ensuring his Sea Eagles get to the NRL finals in one piece.

The Sea Eagles will this weekend embark on a tough three-week run into the finals, with games against fellow top-three sides Melbourne and Brisbane to follow Sunday's meeting with Canterbury - who need to win to keep their season alive.

It is a stretch which will determine where the Sea Eagles finish in the top three.

But with a home final sewn up, the finishing order has taken on less importance for Hasler - with form and fitness his key concern.

It's a desire highlighted by the situation facing the Storm.

Favourites for this year's title - Melbourne are all but assured of taking out the minor premiership - but may not have star halfback Cooper Cronk available until the first week of the finals after he injured his foot in last week's big win over Gold Coast.

"We've got to get past the Bulldogs first and (then) it's about staying healthy," Hasler said of his side's run home.

"You look at what's happened to the Storm.

"(They're) flying one minute and, in the space of a week, they've lost one player for the season (Justin O'Neill) and had two major injuries (to key players)."

Hasler denied his side would be daunted by the gruelling schedule.

"You want to be playing against good sides," he said.

Hooker Matt Ballin admitted while his focus remained on tackling the Bulldogs at Brookvale Oval, he would have one eye on Friday night's blockbuster between the Storm and struggling defending premiers St George Illawarra.

As one of only two sides to have lost to the Dragons over the past two-and-a-half months, Ballin says the Sea Eagles are all too aware of how big a danger the red and white are - despite their four-match losing streak.

"At this stage of the year, it's pretty exciting watching all the teams playing and seeing how they're going," Ballin said.

"Everyone knows St George haven't been playing well but playing against Melbourne will have them ready for a big game."

Despite their recent struggles - which have resulted in them dropping to the fourth line of premiership betting - punters haven't been swayed from backing Wayne Bennett's men.

One bet of $33,000 and another of $10,000 were taken on Wednesday on the Dragons to beat Melbourne with four-and-a-half points start.

But having almost had their pants pulled down by Parramatta last weekend, Ballin said Manly wouldn't be underestimating the Bulldogs by looking beyond Sunday's clash.

The Bulldogs, along with South Sydney, are two points outside the top eight, and a win on Sunday would give them a chance to shoot for a finals berth in their round-25 encounter with eighth-placed Newcastle.

"We've played a couple of teams in that situation lately," Ballin said.

"These are the danger games (against) teams that are desperate.

"They (the Bulldogs) want to make the eight and they want to make an impression against some top sides.

"We have to play well against the Bulldogs this week and then worry about Melbourne and (the) Broncos after that."

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