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Manly still Premiership favourites: Alexander

Melbourne is now unbeaten in eight games this season while Brisbane and Cronulla haven't lost for the past six weeks - but I still rate defending premiers Manly the side to beat.

There’ll be plenty that disagree but I reckon come the big games at the end of the season Manly will have Melbourne’s measure.

Manly's form so far this season has been patchy but that has come about due to on-going injuries and suspension. I cannot recall the last time I actually saw Manly run out with an unchanged line-up.

Again this Sunday against Canberra at Brookvale Oval, the Sea Eagles will be without internationals Kieran Foran (injured) and Tony Williams (suspended). The public battle to keep this squad together is another obstacle they’ve had to deal with; that will continue, although the tight-knit nature of the group just might see the majority of the team stay together.

When it comes to a playing roster, Manly is without peer. They have strengths across the entire playing field. Brett Stewart at the back, great centres in Jamie Lyon and Steve Matai and brilliant young halves in Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans.

Then there is Williams, Glenn Stewart and Anthony Watmough in the back-row and veterans Jason King and Brent Kite up front. And I shouldn't forget Matt Ballin, vastly under-rated and a player who has reached State of Origin level.

Manly has the complete side.

Melbourne is the form team of the premiership, they do look a better outfit than last year and of course any side boasting Cam Smith, Billy Slater and  Cooper Cronk will be difficult to beat.

I just think though, overall, Manly has a more balanced and rounded side and come playoff time just might have to much firepower for the Storm and everyone else.

Brisbane and Cronulla are flying at the moment too. The Broncos will be there at the death this year, I have no doubt about that.

The Sharks have certainly stunned the rugby league community but I question how they will handle the pressure and expectation of semi-final football.

Manly are such a gritty and tough team. They just know how to win football games.

Canterbury came out last Friday night and threw a lot at Manly - but the Sea Eagles were ready for the fight.

I thought it ironic that Des Hasler was beaten by a tough culture that he built.

Hasler may have left Brookvale, but the steely resolve and character didn’t walk out the door with him.

Manly have a wonderful attitude. They are there fighting in every game they contest. I really do admire their mental strength.

Most players talk about spirit but Manly genuinely look a side who play for each other, which as I said earlier might see them retain the bulk of the team. They are the team that know their responsibilities on the field and they work and bleed for each other

Last year, I really thought Manly cruised to the finish line. They didn't break into a sweat during the finals, with easy wins over Brisbane and North Queensland before a fairly comfortable victory over New Zealand in the grand final.

Aside from Shane Rodney, Michael Robertson and Will Hopoate, the guts of Manly's grand final side is back. When Williams and Foran return, they will take a fair bit of stopping.

***

CRONULLA keep winning, winning and winning. Six on the trot for a club many thought would run dead-last.

I was one who didn't rate the Sharks too highly going into the season but they are in form and now in charge of most games.

There comes a time when people must start to rate Cronulla as genuine top four contenders. I think that time has now arrived.

Everything Cronulla do, they do with enthusiasm and desperation.

The only question mark hanging above their heads is how they will compete at State of Origin time without Paul Gallen and probably Todd Carney.

I don't think Cronulla has enormous depth so these six wins have ensured the club has 12 competition points safely tucked away.

And what a game Monday night throws up - Cronulla versus South Sydney at ANZ Stadium. It should be a ripper.

***

THE silence from their Bondi bunker indicates Sydney Roosters management won't re-sign champion fullback Anthony Minichiello. If this is what they’re thinking, isn’t he applying plenty of pressure to make them change their mind.

How good is Minichiello going at the moment?

I wouldn't suggest he’s in career-best form given he won the 2005 Golden Boot - but he isn’t far behind.

Despite the Roosters’ heartbreaking loss, I thought Minichiello was absolutely sensational for the Roosters against St George Illawarra on Anzac Day at Allianz Stadium.

It was one of the best individual performances by a fullback this season.

Minichiello wants to stay a Rooster. He has given the club loyal and magic service since making his debut way back in 2000.

Mind you, the Roosters have also been loyal to Minichiello when he lost several seasons with back issues.

I hope the Roosters reconsider. To me he looks a player with at least another good year left in him.

It just wouldn't be the same seeing Minichiello in a jumper any other colour than red, white and blue.

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