Bench forwards get reduced minutes
Hard-working Manly back-rower Blake Leary says one of the side-effects of the reduced interchange this year is a corresponding reduction in the minutes available to bench players, with coaches compelled to keep starting players on longer in case of injuries late in the game.
Leary played 80 minutes at times last year but started from the bench against the Bulldogs last Friday in Manly's new-look pack, and was used for just 19 minutes.
The trend was reflected across the board with St George Illawarra's Ben Creagh (16 minutes), Souths bench back-rower Chris Grevsmuhl (28 minutes) and Titan Ed Pettybourne (17 minutes) just some of the players capable of huge minutes but used sparingly across the weekend.
The main point of interest around the reduced interchange has been which sides would best handle the possible increase in fatigue, and despite the Bulldogs' large pack being the go-to example over the pre-season, their big-minute props Aiden Tolman and James Graham handled the first test with aplomb.
The same couldn't quite be said of the new-look Manly pack, though Leary backed his teammates to bounce back fast.
"It's definitely changed a bit [with the reduced interchange], I'll be interested to see what [Trent] Barrett and the other coaches decide to do with how they can play around with it," Leary said.
"I didn't think it was going to make as much of an impact as it did. Boys are having to play longer minutes and when you've got your light backs at the end of each half, it just gives them a lot more freedom, a bit more room, a bit more space and I think we just played into their hands by giving them so much ball."
Leary said he definitely noticed more space once he got on the field.
"I played the last 20 and you could definitely tell the fatigue. I don't know if it was just because it was Round 1 and everyone's first game but there was definitely a bit of room out there."
Leary conceded it was frustrating watching on as Manly slumped to a big deficit but backed Barrett to make the right calls with his bench.
"It was a bit frustrating watching your side losing, by [the time they scored] a couple of tries you just want to get out there. But I have full faith in Barrett to make the right decisions," he said.
Leary described the Bulldogs loss as a wake-up call but said the club needed to move on.
"I don't think we'll dwell on it too much, we'll just go back on a few things we can improve and be bigger and better next week," he said.