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Manly should avoid middle trend in NRL

Des Hustler calls on Manly’s pack to step up the aggression as data shows mid-fight against the best of the NRL.

Manly’s season-opening defeat to Penrith has centered around Tom Trobojevic’s lack of opportunities, with his Sydney Roosters opponents not missing a point this week.

But it has also been clear over the past 12 months that Manly has been unable to deliver a good ball to his attacking arms against the best of teams.

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An analysis of Fox Sports stats shows that in matches against Penrith, Melbourne and South Sydney last year, Manly averaged more than 400m runs out per game.

The Sea Eagles also failed to win a field fight in any of those seven matches, running 250 meters below their 2021 average and winning an additional 150.

Manly’s forward did not exceed 120 meters in those three games, while wingers Jason Saab and Reuben Garrick also had fewer numbers as the Sea Eagles lost all seven matches.

The Roasters were another team to beat Manly in the middle in the first round last year, before the Sea Eagles lashed out at the injured tricolor in the final.

“We’ve said a lot about being more aggressive through forwards and really trying to take it up to them and stick to them,” said second-rover Ethan Bullemore.

Asked if that message came from Hustler, Bullemore said: “Definitely.

“Across the board we really want to bring in a lot of line speed and aggression.”

Veteran supporter Martin Taupau suggested he had encountered a spray from Hustler at Thursday night’s performance.

“In any squad it definitely starts in the middle. If you build that ruck pace, the rest of the squad backs off from that,” Taupau said.

“For the middle third, we go in with high intensity, high energy and a lot of intention to win that ruck.

“But it all comes down to what we do. We try and minimize errors, their perks attacking our effort.

“It’s on us, and we deserve a spray combat if we don’t do our job.”

It came as Roasters halfback Luke Carey made it clear that the key area would be in setting off Trobojevic’s spark on Friday night.

“The battle for field position is big,” Kerry said.

“Penrith was good and displayed a patient style with Jarome (Louis) and Sean (O’Sullivan) kicking that corner.

“He got Manly out of his line and I don’t think Tom really had a lot of opportunities or good ball sets.”

A blueprint Taupau had little interest in.

“Everyone says they outsmarted our squad or a certain person, but it’s just not one size fits all,” he said.

“We didn’t do our best last week. We will definitely do that (on Friday).

“With all this blueprint nonsense, it’s not a distraction for us.”

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