GEOFF TOOVEY assured us he was telling the truth. And who are we to doubt him?
When asked if he was looking forward to hosting his old boss, Des Hasler, on Hasler's first match back at Brookvale next week - as coach of the table-topping Bulldogs - Toovey offered: ''I don't care, to tell you the truth.''
He'll be asked it time and again this week, as the big showdown draws closer. But Toovey has reason to be more concerned about his team's performance than any coach-on-coach rivalry with Hasler, after the Sea Eagles produced no answers against a red-hot Newcastle Knights in Newcastle.
''Hopefully a few of the players will be back next week,'' he said. ''Top of the table possibly, the Bulldogs after this week, so our players will definitely be up for that.'' Admittedly, Manly were struck by injuries and sickness last night, with the Stewart brothers missing, Steve Matai outed by flu and some players, including Kieran Foran and Joe Galuvao playing on with the flu. But Toovey didn't indulge in excuses for the six-tries-to-one thrashing.
''Every team's got excuses,'' he said. ''But we're not going to use them. I think we were a team capable of winning the match tonight, despite the changes. I thought we had enough opportunities in the first half to put some points on, but we lacked that structure to get us over the line.''
It was Toovey's first game coaching against Wayne Bennett and it turned ugly. The Knights produced a first-rate defensive effort against a side that piled on 34 first-half points last round. In front of 20,154 fans, the Knights scored early and late in the first half to lead 10-0 and picked up where they left off in the second, adding a further 22 points. The win was spearheaded by halfback Tyrone Roberts and deposed Blues winger Akuila Uate, who was at his best and scored a brace. Danny Buderus made 42 tackles for the Knights and Dane Gagai had a great game, too.
''It was a big game for them out there tonight because of the rivalry between the two clubs,'' Bennett said. ''They knew that they had to aim up and they did show that wonderful spirit they do have.''
Of Uate's great performance, Bennett said it had nothing to do with him being dropped from Origin.
''Do we attribute everything to Origin?'' he asked rhetorically. ''They play well and get their form back. They play badly in Origin, get dropped and play well because they got dropped … I think it's a bit deeper than that, fellas.''
Instead, Uate capitalised on the a first half of passionate and confidence by his team. The Knights held 52 per cent of possession and forced Manly to throw the ball around like a game of touch footy. By half time the Sea Eagles had 12 offloads to the Knights' four and the Knights had scored two unanswered tries, one to Uate and one to Roberts. They piled on the points in the second half, reaching 22-0 before Jamie Lyon put Brent Kite away for Manly's only try. But the Knights wrapped up the two points with eight minutes remaining when McManus was on the end of another sweeping play and, soon afterwards, Uate grabbed the ball on halfway and weaved his way to the try line. Bennett was the winner in this battle of the coaches, but the veteran did offer his counterpart some encouragement for the showdown next round and beyond.
NEWCASTLE 32 (J McManus 2 A Uate 2 D Gagai T Roberts tries T Roberts 4 goals) bt MANLY 6 (B Kite try J Lyon goal) at Hunter Stadium. Referee: Jason Robinson, Tony De Las Heras. Crowd: 20,154.