Manly’s makeshift halves pairing Dylan Walker and Apisai Koroisau face their biggest test of the NRL season on Thursday night when Parramatta visit Brookvale Oval.
Eels halves Kieran Foran and Corey Norman have piloted their side to third on the ladder after an impressive 4-2 start.
Foran’s return to his old stomping ground has been the focus of the lead-up to the round-seven opener. The Manly premiership winner is at full fitness after struggling with a hamstring injury over the opening rounds.
Foran and Norman have quickly formed one of the most-dynamic halves’ combinations in the competition.
But Koroisau has emerged as the NRL’s most in-form player over the past fortnight.
He has picked up back-to-back man of the match awards in a loss to South Sydney and win over the Warriors since taking over the halfback role at Manly following an ankle injury to Daly Cherry-Evans.
The premiership-winning Rabbitohs’ rake again shapes as key for the Sea Eagles.
“I was always pretty confident he could do a job there for us; he did it at Penrith when I was out there on a few occasions,” Manly coach Trent Barrett said at training on Wednesday at Brookvale Oval.
“He is just a competitor and a tough little bugger and he has played really well. I am really happy for him.
“Across the 17, I don’t think we had a bad player last week. Individually, we are getting better but, team-wise, we are still a little bit clunky in certain areas.”
Eels coach Brad Arthur was wary of what the Manly halves could offer.
“Their halves run the footy a lot and so they’re a real threat,” Arthur said.
“We’re going to have to make sure defensively we’re very good. They score a lot of opportunistic tries so we have to make sure we keep our foot moving in defence. Obviously back at Brookvale, Brett Stewart’s going to be a big threat.”
Barrett, whose side are 3-3 and in 10th place coming into round seven, said his team weren’t fussed by the hype surrounding Foran’s return to Brookvale Oval to face his old club for the first time. Former Manly winger Clinton Gutherson will also play his first match against his ex-club since also moving west in the off-season.
“There hasn’t been any talk (about Foran) – we haven’t spent any time together this week,” Barrett said.
“We have a lot of new people in our squad who weren’t here last year.
“It is going to be a big occasion for a few of them, but the two points is our focus.”
Barrett said Thursday morning was the only chance his team had had to train together due to their five-day turnaround after Saturday’s win over the Warriors in Auckland.
* Parramatta have won just 20 of 65 games at Brookvale Oval
* Brett Stewart (87 tries in 95 games) needs one try to equal Steve Menzies’s record of 88 tries (in 147 games) at Brookvale Oval
* Koroisau has recorded two try assists, 12 tacklebreaks, 4 linebreaks, 1 linebreak assist and one try in his two matches as Manly halfback standing in for the injured Daly Cherry-Evans.