Jacob Liddle is the replacement hooker, but he hasn’t been playing 80 minutes of first grade for a long time, so he will need a break at some stage, with Elijah Taylor coming on. With Farah gone, it puts enormous pressure on halfback Luke Brooks to create.
It doesn’t get any easier up front. The Tigers’ inexperienced front row of Oliver Clark and Thomas Mikaele will also be tested. They need the game of their lives against opposite bookends Marty Taupau and Addin Fonua-Blake.
The Tigers lost a nail-biter 18-16 against the Bulldogs last start, but they should’ve won.
They were well on top but, between the 20th minute and the 60th minutes, they just stopped attacking.
When they fell behind, Benji Marshall started coming up with some vintage passes and plays but it was too late. They need more of that flair if they’re to trouble the Sea Eagles.
The not-so-mad scientist
Des Hasler didn’t leave the Bulldogs on the best of terms, but what he’s done in his first season back at Manly, where he previously won two premierships, is nothing short of remarkable.
When Des was at the Bulldogs, he was smart. He could see prop James Graham was a good ball-player, so he used him like a halfback. The likes of Josh Reynolds then played like fullbacks off the back of Graham, just supporting him and running through.
At Manly, Des has gone the opposite way. He’s encouraging his players to offload. The Sea Eagles lead the NRL in offloads and that makes them unpredictable. There’s no defensive strategy you can come up with to prevent that from happening.
Off the back of that second-phase play is when Manly attack around the ruck. It brings the likes of Tommy Trbojevic, halfback Daly Cherry-Evans and Manase Fainu into play.
I love this style of play: the big forwards roll forward, they get some offloads and then the others just blast the ruck. Once they get the door open, they stay in that channel.
That’s why the Tigers’ middle men will be critical. They need to cut the snake off at the head.
There are other things about Manly this year that make me think they can do a lot of damage come September.
Moving Dylan Walker to five-eighth reeks of good coaching. Des knows that Walker is a natural runner of the ball. That’s when he’s at his most dangerous. Des knows he has enough ball-players in his team, so he simply wants Walker to run and he has done so this season with devastating consequences.
Manly are also great in the little effort areas that most people don’t see or take for granted but are fundamental to success: kick pressure, kick chase, the hard work of the markers. It’s telling.
Player to watch
Surprise, surprise, I expect Tommy Turbo to have a huge game. You simply can’t ignore him.
Of all the stats you can look at, consider this: until last Friday night’s loss to the Warriors, he hadn’t played in a losing side all year. That includes two State of Origin wins for NSW.
Sometimes, I look at him out there playing and it’s like the under-8s: get the ball to the big kid.
On Thursday night, as soon as he sees a quick play-the-ball, or he notices that the Tigers have just one marker, Turbo will be right there ready to rumble through the middle of the ruck.
The talk has already started about him and his brother, Jake, coming off contract. I’m not going to tell Manly how to manage their salary cap, but they need to lock up both of them for five years or longer.
Those two should never, ever leave.
It will be an arm wrestle for 50 to 60 minutes, but then Manly will put on the afterburners and get away. Defensively, the Tigers can hang in there, but with no Farah or Mbye, it’s a big ask.
Joey’s tip: Manly by 16
First tryscorer: Moses Suli.
Man of the match: Tommy Turbo
Andrew Johns is an Immortal, a Newcastle great and a commentator for Channel Nine