On the Road: Manly the favourites?

His captain and coach believe Melbourne is still the benchmark but 2010 premiership-winning back rower Neville Costigan reckons the grand final victory belongs to Manly.

Here at On The Road, we tried hard to live up to our name over the weekend by hitting Homebush, Milton and the city end of Richmond in search of an indication of who would be lugging around the Telstra Premiership trophy in three weeks. Brisbane, 40-10 winners over the Warriors at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night, was our most impressive performer.

But let’s face it, what do we know? Queensland and Papua New Guinea back rower Costigan is wearing one of the newest set of premiership rings in circulation, having joined Newcastle this year from the world champion Dragons. For many pundits, the Storm’s 18-8 win over Nev’s Knights at AAMI Park on Sunday was just not thorough enough to convince them old Norm’n’Arthur are gonna join their mate JJ Giltinan in the Victorian capital.

Newcastle coach Rick Stone disagreed. “We played a quality side,” he said, “they’re probably premiership favourites and they deserve to be.”

Skipper Kurt Gidley added: “Their run into the semis, I know they lost the last two, but (winning the minor premiership) was amazing feat. They work had for each other, great coach. They’ll be hard to beat, I’d say.”

Costigan was also impressed with the Storm but tells On The Road: “I reckon Manly will go close. Brisbane, they’re pretty good too. But I reckon Manly has a lot of experience and a lot of mentally tough blokes. Manly’s my tip.”

Manly, of course, eliminated North Queensland with a 46-8 victory in the third qualifying final at Sydney Football Stadium on Saturday night. Costigan said of his Dragons ex-team-mates: “You can never write them off. They played a really good first half (against Wests Tigers). A couple of calls didn’t go their way. I reckon they’ll win their next game and it will be interesting from there.”

Tim Moltzen is kind of the anti-Neville Costigan. He’s one year out from joining the red and white but his time in Wollongong is in the future rather than the past. On Friday, he was a standout performer in Wests Tigers’ 21-12 success against Wayne Bennett’s mob.

“It’s a bit weird, to be honest,” Moltzen told us. “I haven’t really thought about it too much. I’ve just been trying to focus on finishing the year well for the Tigers (but) it’s very strange going up against a team you’re going to.

“Having that security is good. You can put it to the back of your mind, knowing you’ve got a job for the next three years I suppose. At the time (I signed with the Dragons), it was a difficult decision but one which had to be made.”

Many fans expect Wests Tigers to be even scarier on a dry track, starting this Friday against the Warriors. “I suppose, any side when it’s wet, you’ve got to tighten up your footy,” says Moltzen. “You can’t play too expansive but for us, who knows what the day’s going to bring and what the weather’s going to be like.

“We’ve got to be ready to play in any weather. I guess we can take confidence from playing in the wet, grinding out a win like that.”

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When Josh McGuire says his “focus” is on the Brisbane Broncos right now, it’s not a pun.

Focus is a much bigger deal for the 21-year-old Broncos prop than it is for most of us. It’s been that way since he suffered a detached retina playing against Canterbury earlier this year. He’ll be watching the finals as closely as me and you – but even though he’s playing, his view might not be as good as ours’.

“(On Saturday) I had a bit of a knock on the eye,” he tells us. “It just dislodged the contact lense. As soon as that happened, I started seeing ... double. Once it falls back into place, it’s alright.

“I had a bit of a scare. And (in) Newcastle was a bit scary.”

Once upon a time, Brisbane had half the Australian team and that was that. But now Gerard Beale is vying with Josh Hoffman for a New Zealand place, Jack Reed is being considered by England and McGuire is a Samoan international who Queensland – allegedly – want to pinch.

But like he says, his focus is on Brisbane. While skipper Darren Lockyer reckons his own string of farewells helped prepare the young Broncos for the pressure and hype of September, McGuire reckons:  “As soon as finals footy starts, it’s so much quicker and so much more physical. Every game could be Locky’s last game so everyone’s putting in.

“Last year we didn’t make the eight. That’s been a big driving force this year. We had an early pre-season. We came back the first of November so it’s been really tough but it’s all starting to play off now.”

A team that missed last year’s finals and a side that won the whole shooting match. That’s one helluva intriguing preliminary final. Sorry, Nev – I won’t be putting my hard earned Kina on either of them.