Hodges: Barrett coach of the year?
With the picture becoming clearer of those teams that will play finals footy this year we can start to evaluate the performances of many of the NRL coaches and for mine the most impressive this year has been Trent Barrett at Manly.
You can make a case every year that what Craig Bellamy does at the Storm is the best coaching achievement in the game and Shane Flanagan has done a great job to get the Sharks up again after last year's premiership, but what Barrett has done at Manly has most impressed me.
I had them in my top four prior to last year and after losing the first two games this year questions were already being asked about Trent but the way his players have delivered and the performances of his new recruits show that they all believe in what he is trying to do and have the respect to want to play for him.
Given that Brett Stewart and Steve Matai are still on the Manly books Trent and his coaching staff had to be clever in the type of players that they recruited and in many ways it looks as though he has followed the same type of philosophy as Bellamy at the Storm.
He has a core of really good players and then he builds in around them and gives those players a really simple task to perform each week.
For every Daly Cherry-Evans, Blake Green and Tom Trbojevic you need other players to contribute and know their role and it's important that you give players specific tasks to carry out.
For the forwards and the backs in particular, you just need to give them one or two things to concentrate on in attack and defence and if they execute them to the best of their ability and the whole 17 is doing it then you're going to be very hard to beat.
It's what makes the Melbourne Storm so difficult to beat. They're all given a simple task and they do it so well for the team.
When I was playing at the Broncos one of my key tasks was on kick-chase, to get down there as fast as I could, be nice and aggressive in the first couple of tackles and set the tone for the rest of the set. It was a really simple task but by doing that well it put our team in a strong position and gave us a chance to showcase our skills once we started to get on top.
Signing Akuila Uate may have looked like a gamble to many people but Trent obviously saw an opportunity to bring out his best and from the outside looking in he appears to be happy and enjoying his football again.
When Aku has got the ball in his hands he's very hard to tackle and an extremely dangerous runner of the ball. He looks as though he has worked on catching high balls because that was always a bit of an issue for him but I'd say Trent has given him the licence to go out there and have fun.
I'm assuming that Trent has a good relationship with Aku and all of his players because 10 times out of 10, when a player has a good relationship with their coach they are going to put in for them and not let him down and that's what I have seen from Manly most weeks this year.
You want to repay the faith that the coach has shown in you by playing your best and at the moment Aku looks relaxed, there's no pressure on him and he's just going out there and playing good football and looks to be in a really good headspace.
They had a bit of blip last week against the Dragons but I think Manly will bounce back against the Storm this week and be one of the teams to beat when the finals come around.
I'm sure plenty of Melbourne fans got nervous last week when Cam Smith and then Billy Slater both left the field, but with both getting positive news regarding their injuries the Storm remain the team to beat. The two teams that I believe have the potential to worry Melbourne are the Roosters and the Broncos. Melbourne are a very hard team to score against but they do give you opportunities, you just have to be good enough to take them. At the other end of the field you've got to make sure that you don't give them any. The Raiders gave away nine penalties last week and eventually you're going to pay for it because they are such a good side. The Broncos are getting some players back and I don't think the Roosters have played their best football yet so I think if you're looking to find the winner of the grand final from this far out it will be out of those three.