Sea Eagles coach Anthony Seibold is confident Josh Schuster will overcome a string of off-season setbacks to take his place on the plane to Las Vegas later this month, with the Manly boss rubbishing claims the back-rower hasn't been able to train for the past two months.
It's been a rough few years for Schuster, whose conditioning has been scrutinised and he has been left out of the squad, but Seibold says he's never seen the 22-year-old look better two weeks out from their first trial against the Roosters in Gosford.
Schuster didn't take part in Friday's scrimmage against the Dragons in sultry conditions in Sydney, but his coach expects him to be back running next week after he picked up a calf niggle on Monday that the club is treating as conservatively as possible to avoid a long-lasting injury.
"It's really unfortunate for 'Schuey' because he was in as good a condition (I've seen) in the 14 or 15 months that I've been here," Seibold said.
"The week before Christmas, he and a couple of staff members unfortunately got chickenpox, so that knocked him out of the last week of training (before the break).
"Then on day two when we were down in Canberra, he broke his finger – had a spiral fracture – so that needed surgery, which we did straightaway."
News of his calf complaint led to revelations that the Samoan international had been sidelined for the past two months, but Seibold said that was fake news.
"I'm not sure where the narrative around him not having trained for eight weeks came from, but that's not true. He's been training the whole time," he said.
"He did pull up sore with a calf injury on Monday, but he's been able to do all off-field conditioning.
"We expect him to play against the Roosters, and then we'll go from there.
"We've all been 22 and it's a challenging period of life where you still don't know yourself too well.
"He's been in the spotlight for a couple of years now and it is hard for him.
"It's challenging that every move or every training session he doesn't perform in or participate in is in the paper.
"We'll just take our time with him."
While Seibold knows guys like Daly Cherry-Evans, Tom and Jake Trbojevic will all be in the team for the historic clash against Souths in Las Vegas, there are still plenty of spots up for grabs as Manly look to win their way back into the top eight.
"We feel like we didn't have the depth last year to really go hard at the top four or five teams," he said.
"One of the things we've tried to do is add depth and competition for spots.
"Of course guys like Tom, 'Chez' and Jake Trbojevic and others are assured a spot on the plane, but we want competition for spots and we don't shy away from that.
"I hope to see Schuey play against the Roosters and I'd like to see all our guys competing for spots to play in the first two trials, which they'll all have the chance to do.
"I feel like he'll perform well and be on the plane to Vegas with us. We know we're a better side when he's in and around it."
If Schuster is fit then he's tipped to start in the back row outside new recruit Luke Brooks, who is looking for a fresh start on Manly's left edge after a luckless stint at the Tigers where he failed to play finals footy and copped plenty of flak from the fans.
"One of the things I wanted to do with Brooksy was make him feel like he belongs here at Manly," Seibold said.
"We run a really thorough program for any new player who comes to our club … and we wanted to put our arms around Brooksy and welcome him to our club.
"We feel like we've done a good job with that with him.
"Having copped a few punches around the face myself over the last few years as a coach, I understand where he's coming from and I have empathy for what he's had to go through.
"We just wanted him to come here and do his job. Chez, Turbo and Jakey are the faces of our club. Brooksy doesn't need to be that. He just needs to do his job and compete really hard."
Martin Gabor - NCA NewsWire