The Origin stat Manly must defy to boost finals hopes

George Clarke |

With a rag-tag bunch of fringe NRL players and rookies, Manly have their sights set on ending a horrific State of Origin-impacted record and further enhancing their top-eight credentials.

All season long, Sea Eagles coach Anthony Seibold has challenged his players to break away from a “cluster” of teams lingering in and around the top eight.

There has been arguably no bigger test of his side’s ability to do that than the one coming on Saturday, when Manly face South Sydney missing a dozen first-grade regulars.

While injury and suspension mean Tom Trbojevic, Josh Aloiai and Taniela Paseka won’t take the field at Accor Stadium, the Sea Eagles will also be without Jake Trbojevic, Daly Cherry-Evans and Haumole Olakau’atu due to Origin duties.

Eighth-placed Manly boast one of the worst records in Origin-affected rounds.

Since 2016, the Sea Eagles have won just one of eight games when players have been away on representative duty for their state, with fill-in co-captain Luke Brooks keen to reverse that ugly trend.

“It’s a big game, because there’s so many teams from about fifth to 13th and there’s only a point or two between them,” Brooks told AAP.

“Every game is so important and, going into a bye, to get that win and bank the two points would be nice.

“It’s a massive game and a big opportunity for us.”

Manly will hand out three club debuts, with Aaron Schoupp named at centre and forwards Aitasi James and Caleb Navale on the interchange.

“(Navale) has been playing some good footy in reserve grade and he’ll add a lot to our side,” Brooks said.

To defeat Souths, Manly are eager to summon the same grit and determination that helped them conjure a 30-14 win over St George Illawarra last Sunday with just 14 fit players.

“That was a really gutsy effort from the boys, and towards the end we had 13 blokes and Corey Waddell, who was running on one leg,” centre Tolu Koula said.

“We showed real heart to get that win.

“We’ve got a pretty young squad with a few fresh faces, but we’re confident that we have the ability to go out there and get the job done.”