Manly will have to dig even deeper into their ravaged front row stocks for Saturday night’s NRL season-opener against Melbourne after co-captain Jason King was ruled out with his ongoing shoulder problem.
Unheralded off-season signings Josh Starling and Dunamis Lui are now battling it out to partner Brenton Lawrence up front against the Storm pack at Brookvale Oval.
Former South Sydney fringe prop Starling is likely to start, with former Brisbane player Lui to come off the bench.
Last year’s grand finalists are also without winger Jorge Taufua, due to a shoulder problem, and fellow try-scoring flyer David Williams remains in doubt with a knee injury.
Williams trained separately from the team at Narrabeen on Monday, but still hopes to prove his fitness.
Peta Hiku and Parramatta recruit Cheyse Blair trained outside Jamie Lyon and Steve Matai on the flanks on Monday, suggesting they will get first crack against the Storm.
Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey had hoped King would be fit for round one after missing the majority of the past two seasons.
Manly’s prop resources were decimated in the off-season with Brent Kite and George Rose leading the long list of departures.
But Toovey is confident Manly will stand up to be counted against Rose and the Storm on Saturday.
“We’ve got our own issues there but we’ve been training hard,” the coach said.
“We’re a bit shy there. You never know we might pick up someone along the way. We’re still open to signing (another prop).
“I think there’s always pressure on those clubs that have performed the year before and we’re no different.
“We’ve got our targets set high and hopefully we can achieve those targets. We’re pretty confident with the playing squad we’ve got, we’ve just got to keep everyone fit and healthy.”
Starling only played seven matches for the Rabbitohs but is confident he is capable of stepping up for an entire season if required.
The 23-year-old says the high standards set by Manly’s forward pack over the years presents a significant challenge.
“They’ve got a very good reputation of being a tough forward pack here and I don’t want to let them down,” Starling said.
It was initially feared Williams may miss the entire season, but it turns out his knee suffered only deep bruising rather than structural damage at the Auckland Nines.
“I haven’t run with the boys yet but it’s only early in the week,” he said.
In good news for Manly, the Stewart brothers Brett and Glenn have had their first injury-free pre-seasons in some time.