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Manly must buck middles trend in NRL

Des Hasler has told Manly’s pack to up the aggression as data reveals their middles battles against the NRL’s best.

The focus of Manly’s season-opening loss to Penrith has centred around Tom Trbojevic’s lack of opportunities, a point not missed by their Sydney Roosters opponents this week.

But what’s also clear in the past 12 months is Manly’s inability to provide their attacking weapons good ball against the best teams.

An analysis of Fox Sports Stats shows Manly have been out-run by an average of more than 400 metres per game in matches against Penrith, Melbourne and South Sydney in the last year.

The Sea Eagles also failed to win the territorial battle in any of those seven matches, running 250 less metres than their 2021 average and conceding an extra 150.

None of Manly’s forwards ran above 120 metres in three of those games, while wingers Jason Saab and Reuben Garrick’s numbers were also down as the Sea Eagles lost all seven matches.

The Roosters were another team to beat Manly in the middle in round one last year, before the Sea Eagles flogged the injury-depleted Tricolours in the finals.

“We have spoken a lot about being more aggressive through the forwards and really trying to take it to them and stick it to them,” second-rower Ethan Bullemor said.

When asked if that message had come from Hasler, Bullemor said: “Definitely.

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

Veteran prop Martin Taupau suggested they had copped a spray from Hasler over Thursday night’s performance.

“In any squad it definitely starts in the middle. If you create that ruck momentum, the rest of the squad go off the back of 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 minimise the errors, the allowances of them attacking our tryline.

“The onus is on us, and if we don’t do our job we deserve to cop a spray.”

It came as Roosters halfback Luke Keary made clear territory would be crucial in shutting down Trbojevic’s spark on Friday night.

“The field position battle is the big one,” Keary said.

“Penrith were good and they played a patient style of footy with Jarome (Luai) and Sean (O’Sullivan) kicking them into that corner.

“They made Manly come off their own line and I don’t think Tom really had too many opportunities or good ball sets.”

A blueprint Taupau had little interest in.

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

“We just didn’t perform to our very best last week. We’ll definitely do that (on Friday).

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

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