The raw emotion might have subsided somewhat but veteran Sea Eagles prop Brent Kite still expects fireworks on Friday night when former coach Des Hasler returns to Brookvale Oval with the Bulldogs.
It’s now 18 months since Hasler’s acrimonious departure from Manly, where he won two premierships before falling out with the board, and he rubbed salt into the wound in his first season at Belmore as he guided the Bulldogs to the minor premiership and grand final.
The defection of back-rower Tony Williams from the Sea Eagles to Canterbury this year has only added further spice to the rivalry and with both sides desperate for a win this week, Kite said he was expecting a fiery confrontation.
“It’s still one that has a bit of interest surrounding the recent rivalry,” he said. “It (Hasler’s departure) happened a little while ago I suppose... but we’ll see. We need the two points coming off a loss and they’re getting their season back on track so they’ll be looking for a win pretty desperately. That always makes for a good game.
“To me it feels like the hype has lessened to a degree. Last year it was pretty fresh and there were probably some old wounds there but I think time does heal… but it is what it is. I don’t think we’ll be lacking any motivation, and neither will they. The recent games have had plenty of passion in them so I think this will be no different.”
While the Bulldogs moved into the top eight for the first time this season with last week’s win over North Queensland, Manly will be looking to avoid consecutive losses after throwing away an early 12-0 lead against the Warriors last Sunday.
Having begun the season with five wins from their first six games – including a 20-6 win over Canterbury in Round 5 – the Sea Eagles have won just two of their past six and could drop out of the top four should they fall again this week.
“We’ve been a little patchy,” Kite conceded. “We’ve got to string a couple of wins together I think. It always bodes well for a good season if you can win three or four in a row.
“But one thing we haven’t done this year is drop two in a row, so we’ll be looking to continue that trend with the Doggies here on Friday night. We’ve got the motivation to do that and being back at Brookie should only help, although it won’t be everything. We still need to come out and play well.
“Any other team coming up against the Bulldogs would know that they have their work cut out for them anyway, and we’re no different. We’ve had a few players out and they’ve got a few back, so we’ve got to be firing come Friday night.”
Kite admitted Manly’s plight hadn’t been helped in recent weeks by the absence of injured stars Brett Stewart and Jason King but said he had been impressed by their replacements.
Asked if he had felt the need to carry some of the extra burden, the former NSW and Australian prop replied: “It’s not a burden, it’s just not always ideal. The seasons where you do okay are usually the ones where you have as few injuries as possible and you’re not chopping and changing too much. In saying that, these young kids that have come in have been doing their job and some of them are real surprise packets. Peter Hiku is doing a great job for a big name in Brett Stewart.”
Kite is, however, more determined than ever to finish the season strongly.
Having recently announced he will join Penrith in 2014 on a two-year deal, his nine-year stint with the Sea Eagles is quickly drawing to a close and he would love nothing more than to farewell them with a third NRL premiership.
“I suppose it is starting to sink in now,” he said. “I’m sort of used to the idea, and that’s good.
“It’s good to know where you stand when it comes to your future. But it’s a little strange. It’s still sad to think about moving on but I’ve got the rest of the year here still and I’m still enjoying it so I’ll try and go out with a bang, which is the plan.
“I just hope for the best and the same for the team. It’s been a good team for so long and another premiership to finish would be awesome.”