Manly Sea Eagles: The run home...

Can the men from the Insular Peninsula go back-to-back in 2009? It’s a big ask, they haven’t been the force they were in 2008 and a large part of that has been the prolonged absence of Brett Stewart. <br><br>Whilst Michael Robertson is a safe option at the back, he is no Stewart. Few can match ‘The Prince of Brookvale’, but the man himself is due back for the big clash with Melbourne at Olympic Park in round 24.<br><br>Even without Stewart, Manly have been resurgent during the second half of 2009 winning seven of their last ten, indicating coach Des Hasler may have the Premiers primed for a title defence.<br><br><b>The run home:</b> Knights (H), Wests Tigers (A), Rabbitohs (H), Roosters (A), Storm (A), Sharks (H), Titans (H)<br><br>Only three top eight teams feature in the Manly run to the finals and with two of those games at Brookie you can expect them to win a couple of those, but it is their Grand Final replay with the Storm south of the border which will have everyone talking.<br><br>Towelling Manly at Brookvale in round 8 will likely not be enough for the Storm who will want to punish their conquerors from 2008 even further, but this Manly side won’t take a backward step in what could be a cataclysmic forward battle. If Brent Kite and Josh Perry find their best in their run to the finals - look out!<br><br><b>Players to Watch:<br>Brent Kite</b> – Even Kite’s most ardent fans would tell you his performance in Origin this year was underwhelming, but the big man was amongst the Sea Eagles' best during their run to the trophy in 2008 and a repeat dose of the hard working attitude he showed back then will make him a force in the finals once again.<br><br><b>Anthony Watmough</b> – Having already harped on the importance of the returning Brett Stewart, ‘Choc’ was a certainty for this spot. Watmough found controversy before the season even started after an altercation with a sponsor, continued in that vain as he was called a defensive turnstile and then stuck it to all his critics with one of the best performances of 2009 in Origin three. He tops the NRL in tackle busts with 82 and is 20th for line breaks. Watmough is a man to be feared.<br><br><b>Predicted finish</b>: 6th