Manly might be traveling well in the NRL so far in the 2008 season, but quite simply they need the power and dominance of Steve Matai to offer them the intimidation factor needed to go to the next level in the upcoming finals.
The Eagles have a host of players in top form, veteran Steve Menzies is running like a teenager again and remains in all the action and while they have a skillful Matt Orford at no.7 and a hard running Lyon at pivot; even the forwards in the Sea Eagles pack don’t offer the fear factor that Matai can give when he shapes up against an opposing team.
Matai is confident he can make a remarkable recovery from a serious chest injury in time to play in Saturday’s top-of-the-table NRL clash with Cronulla and the Eagles need him fit and consistently in their side to make amends for a poor capitulation in last years Grand Final.
Matai was vomiting blood after a heavy collision early in his side’s 34-14 NRL win over the Titans last Friday night and sent to hospital where he was diagnosed with a bruised lung.
It was initially thought Matai was no chance of figuring in the Toyota Park match but after returning to training on Wednesday, both the Kiwi Test centre and his coach Des Hasler were confident he could play.
“I’ll see the doctor tomorrow and hopefully the scans come up well and I’ll be right to play,” Matai said.
“I feel alright, today was the first time I did some running since the game and I feel pretty good.
“I was a bit worried when I was coughing up blood on Saturday … and I was a bit short of breath today, but I’m hoping the doctor looks at the scans and says it looks good.”
Matai said he wouldn’t curb his aggressive playing style despite his run of injuries.
“I like to play hard and I’m not going to stop playing hard so, if it comes down to tackling hard I’ll always do that for the team,” he said.
Hasler was super-confident when asked if he thought Matai was a chance of playing.
“He’s fine, he’ll be right to go,” Hasler said.
The coach’s confidence in Matai’s fitness could well just be mind games, and it’s likely his comments that Cronulla should be favourites were made with similar intent.
Manly are first on the table, equal on 26 points with the Sharks and Roosters, but well ahead on percentages and listed as $1.60 favourites for the match.
But Hasler believes Ricky Stuart’s side deserved favouritism on Saturday night.
“They’re a good side, a very good side … they’re probably just above us,” Hasler said.
“They probably deserve favouritism, and that’s understandable.
“They’re a good side, well coached, well drilled and they’re at (home) so we know we’re up for a tough game.
“It’s one of those game, I think it’s going to be something special.”