20 August 2006 By MATTHEW RIDGE It's six weeks away, but here's my early tip for the NRL premiership, and if I was a betting man I'd be at the TAB today loading up on them. No one would have picked them before the season began, but I think the Manly Sea Eagles can lift the trophy on October 1. A lot of people will raise an eyebrow, but my old team is playing good football and is as well prepared as anyone for the finals. For most of the season the Sea Eagles have effectively been playing finals football - playing in a lot of tight games against the teams around them on the ladder. More often than not, they've got on top in those games and they are the matches that toughen you up mentally for what is to come. Manly has learned to grind out a result and hang in there until late in the game. It's an important lesson. When I was playing for the Eagles in 1995, we were virtually unbeatable in the regular season. Then we lost the grand final. A lot of that came down purely and simply to the fact we weren't used to being behind in a game. When it happened, we didn't know what to do. I suspect that could be Melbourne this year. Perverse as it sounds, the Storm probably need to suffer a defeat before the play-offs -remember the old adage, every win is one closer to a loss. I believe you have to go into the finals with some form, but you don't want to be red-hot. Manly coach Des Hasler played alongside me and, without a doubt, he was the most committed, dedicated and professional player I ever met. Des wasn't born with huge natural league ability. He wasn't a great passer or kicker, but he was incredibly tenacious and ridiculously fit, performing well above his natural ability. Just like his current team. There are no superstars, but there are few weaknesses. They perform with the enthusiasm, the dedication and the professionalism that Des Hasler had as a player. Manly has a big, capable pack that never stops going forward, with the vital experience of Ben Kennedy and Steven Menzies. Then there's a very good halfback in Matt Orford, who possesses one of the competition's best kicking games, and Hasler has his men chasing them downfield at a 100 kilometres an hour. Manly also has a high percentage goal-kicker in Michael Monaghan and fullback Brett Stewart is running at about a try a game and is one of the competition's fastest. Steven Bell is a top-notch centre, and the other centre, Kiwi Steve Matai, has been unbelievable - he's tough, aggressive, powerful and consistent. Trust me, if Manly, currently third, finishes in the top four, it is a big show. Didn't know Monas was such a great goalkicker!! In all honesty I really can't disagree with anything Ridge has said.