NRL 2022: Brad Fittler reveals left-field plan to keep Joey Manu at No.6 for the Roosters

Brad Fittler is adamant Joey Manu should be the Roosters’ five-eighth and has revealed who he would shift to make it happen.

Roosters Hall of Famer and premiership-winning captain Brad Fittler is adamant rising star Sam Walker should be benched to make way for Joey Manu’s move to five-eighth.

Fittler’s selection bombshell has emerged as Immortal Andrew Johns praised Manu as among the top-three players in the world.

The heavyweight opinion is supported by stunning Fox Sports statistics that illustrates Manu’s devastating impact every time he touches the ball.

Manu has run for 692 metres and busted 39 tackles in his past three games, that includes him playing fullback for New Zealand and twice at five-eighth for the Roosters.

“I think he’s (Manu) got to be five-eighth,’’ Fittler said on Nine’s Freddy and The Eighth.

“I’d put Sam Walker on the bench.

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Joey Manu has been outstanding for the Roosters in two starts at five-eighth this season. Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images
Joey Manu has been outstanding for the Roosters in two starts at five-eighth this season. Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

“Absolutely (I would move Manu) because I think you could move him back into the centres late in the game and bring Sam Walker on, who would definitely be better against fatigued teams.

“Sam Walker would be great off the bench because he’s different.

“He comes on and he’s not someone you can do video (analysis) against and say, he’s going to do this or that.

“He kicks when you think he’s going to run, he runs when you think he’s going to kick.

“He passes high, he just does it all.”

After six weeks out with issues related to concussion, Luke Keary will return for the Roosters at five-eighth alongside halfback Walker, against Newcastle on Friday night.

Manu has been selected in the centres.

Debate over Manu’s best position has intensified following the 26-year-old’s stunning past three appearances, which began last month at fullback for the Kiwis.

With a bye sandwiched between, Manu played five-eighth in the Roosters superb performance to go down narrowly to Penrith 26-18 before then putting 54-points on the Dragons last weekend, with the damaging ball-runner scoring two tries.

Brad Fittler believes Sam Walker would be dynamic off the bench. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Brad Fittler believes Sam Walker would be dynamic off the bench. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

A season-ending knee injury to Roosters centre Billy Smith is a factor in Manu’s move back to the centres.

Roosters coach Trent Robinson raised his eyebrows at any suggestion the combination of Keary and Walker should be broken up before admitting Manu will be given a role that allows him “time on the ball.”

“It wasn’t a hard decision,’’ Robinson said of shifting Manu to the centres for Keary’s return.

“We’ve obviously got Sammy Walker and Luke Keary who, I feel like, it’s strange that they’re (commentators) questioning their quality as players and the way we want to play.

“But Joey will also have the ability to play a certain style which will suit him.

“We’ve experimented with it over the last couple of years, so he’ll get his time on the ball.’’

Asked if Manu’s long-term future was as a running-half, Robinson replied: “His future this week is at centre.’’

Luke Keary will play five-eighth in his return from concussion. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images
Luke Keary will play five-eighth in his return from concussion. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images

Johns backed Fittler by agreeing Manu was “playing out of position”.

“He’s playing out of position and right now, he’s in the top three players in the world,’’ Johns said on the podcast. “The game’s changed again. The game is evolving.

“I think the front-rower’s playing forward and the locks linking, I think the game is going away from that again.

“It’s a big decision for Robbo.’’

Lodge arrives at right time Roosters’ injuries mount

-Michael Carayannis, Martin Gabor

A Joseph Manu masterclass inspired the Roosters to a thumping 54-26 win over St George Illawarra to keep their finals hopes alive, but the win has come at a huge cost with three players facing long stints on the sidelines.

The Roosters’ casualty ward is already a huge concern in the run to September and it’s set to swell with Billy Smith (knee), Sitili Tupouniua (knee) and Siosiua Taukeiaho (eye socket) all looking at serious time away from the game.

Any injury to Smith would be heartbreaking given the young centre has already suffered two-season-ending ACL tears, while there are fears Tupouniua will miss the rest of 2022 after his left leg buckled as he chased a kick.

The Roosters will be hoping that the early prognosis for Taukeiaho is wrong with their front-row stocks already thin with Lindsay Collins and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves missing Saturday’s game through injury and HIA protocols.

Joseph Manu was outstanding for the Roosters.
Joseph Manu was outstanding for the Roosters.

Matt Lodge’s 30-minute Roosters debut did not reach any great heights but his arrival at Bondi could be as important as any recent signing by the club if they are to make a finals push with a mounting injury toll.

Lodge spoke about his nerves and excitement about pulling on the Roosters jersey for the first time after an emotional jersey presentation by coach Trent Robinson for his fourth NRL club.

“I was nervous,” Lodge said. “I told Robbo (Robinson) that it was the first time I’ve been nervous in a while. It was a good feeling. It meant a lot to me. I wasn’t sure it would happen. I told them I was willing to play any role.

“Robinson and Teddy (James Tedesco) had a few words. It’s been a journey to get here. It’s been a dream to play here. I was close a few times. Driving to the game I thought all the stars aligned.”

After a false start in the first half, Lodge finally took the field with 30 minutes remaining and the scores at 20-all. His major imprint on the game was an intercept pass which landed in the grasp of Dragons fullback Cody Ramsay.

Trying to keep alive on the last play Lodge threw blindly Ramsay scooping up possession to race 90 metres to score. He finished with 11 runs and two tackles as the Roosters dominated possession in his time on the paddock.

Matt Lodge played 30 minutes for the Roosters in his first game for the club.
Matt Lodge played 30 minutes for the Roosters in his first game for the club.

“I’ve been out for a little bit but the boys made my job a lot easier,” Lodge said. “I don’t think I’ve played on the bench. I was getting nervous in the warm up. I had to calm down a bit.”

Lodge had made his rugby league return just last week with North Sydney where he pumped out 40 minutes in two stints for the Beas which was his first game since splitting from the Warriors in May.

Robinson praised Lodge’s first-up performance – who has only signed for the rest of the season.

“I thought it was outstanding,” Robinson said. “We needed a big man. His play-the-balls led to two tries. He laid the platform. He was clear about his role. I liked the way he rolled forward. It was good.”

Considering the Roosters’ injury toll, it’s incredible they were able to win so comfortably on Saturday with guys filling in where necessary as they overcame some awful handling in the first half to move ahead of the Dragons on points differential.

It wasn’t the defensive dominance we’ve come to know under Trent Robinson, but the coach will still celebrate an important win in NRL game No.250 with skipper James Tedesco putting the pain of Wednesday’s Origin defeat behind him with two tries and a mountain of metres.

MASTERFUL MANU

Manu’s move to the halves will most likely come to an end next week when Luke Keary returns from his latest head knock, but Roosters fans can rest easy knowing they have a guy who might just be the best player in the world right now.

Few players move with such grace, run it as hard, step with such ease and ball-play as silkily as Manu who seems to get better with every game he plays.

The fill-in five-eighth got the ball rolling on Saturday with some wonderful footwork and a magical flick pass to set up Victor Radley for the opening try and then showed pure strength to barge over from close range to make it 12-0.

He burrowed over from dummy-half to score another timely four-pointer in the second half and then played short to Angus Crichton who set up Tedesco as the Roosters ran riot after Aaron Woods was sent to the sin bin for a professional foul.

Manu finished with two tries, two try assists, four line breaks, 153 running metres and 15 tackle busts in one of the great individual performances of the season.

Victor Radley, right, celebrates with teammates after scoring the Roosters’ opening try against the Dragons. Picture: Scott Gardiner/Getty Images
Victor Radley, right, celebrates with teammates after scoring the Roosters’ opening try against the Dragons. Picture: Scott Gardiner/Getty Images

HEROIC HUNT

One of the great captain’s knocks from Ben Hunt went unrewarded as the Dragons’ hopes of playing finals footy took a major hit.

Just three days after his legendary performance for the Maroons in the State of Origin decider, Hunt returned to his preferred position at halfback and produced five minutes of magic to put his team in a winning position.

It looked like the Red V would register their first win in a non-Anzac Day fixture since the 2010 Grand Final, but it wasn’t to be. After a sluggish start saw them down 12-0, the Dragons skipper conjured something special to turn the game on its head.

He got the show started with a solo effort from close range to get his side on the board, nailed a monster 40/20 from the ensuing set and then linked up with Zac Lomax to level things up in the blink of an eye.

The Dragons don’t have an overly difficult final few weeks, but their season goes on the line with crunch games against Manly, North Queensland and Cronulla.

If Hunt’s teammates don’t lift then they can kiss goodbye to the top eight.

Zac Lomax got on the scoresheet for the Dragons. Picture: Scott Gardiner/Getty Images
Zac Lomax got on the scoresheet for the Dragons. Picture: Scott Gardiner/Getty Images

KEARY BACK TO HIS ‘ANNOYING’ BEST

-Nick Walshaw

Roosters playmaker Luke Keary has passed a series of contact sessions with teammates in recent days, clearing the star playmaker for a hyped return against Newcastle in round 19.

After being out for a month due to ongoing concussion issues, coach Trent Robinson said Keary will make his much-awaited return next Friday night as the club looks to make a late run for the NRL playoffs.

Robinson said Keary, who some feared would be forced to retire after being taken from the field against Melbourne in round 14, was back to his “annoying” best.

The Roosters premiership hero has a long association with head knocks, having had five concussions in 14 months between January 2018 and May 2019. However, the 30-year-old has worked closely with neurological experts, who have cleared him to return.

Luke Keary is set to return for the Roosters in round 19. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Luke Keary is set to return for the Roosters in round 19. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

“He’s fully trained this week,” Robinson said of Keary. “After having a period of time off, after being away from the group, he’s now been back in the last couple of weeks.”

Asked if he was back to his best, Robinson joked: “Yes, he’s annoying.

“Luke was racing around trying to play his best game against us (at training) yesterday.

“All week he’s trained really well. He’s been vocal, strong.

“He’s looked for those contacts that are going to get him ready to play.

“So it won’t be this week. We just wanted to see him through the week, see how he was after each of those training sessions and then get him into a full week next week.”

Robinson said Keary’s return would be a huge boost for the club, which is in 10th spot.

“His talk is important to us, his leadership is important, he’s one of our captains,” he said.

“But we’ve also given that time to make sure he is right to get the best out of himself before he comes back in and leads the team around.”


Originally published as NRL 2022: Brad Fittler reveals left-field plan to keep Joey Manu at No.6 for the Roosters

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