Manly's visit to Ericsson Stadium on Sunday will not only serve as another useful yardstick on the Warriors' progress from the rear of the NRL field, but will also continue the long love-hate relationship the Sea Eagles have with the game in New Zealand.

In the early 1990s, when I was in charge of the outfit, the club loved coming to New Zealand but hated the reception that awaited them.

It was like getting mugged at your favourite picnic spot!

I brought my 1991 Manly side to Auckland for a pre-season friendly at Carlaw Park. Our first mistake was to interpret "pre-season" as "friendly".

In that era, Manly was affectionately known as Maori-Warringah and had more members of their supporters club in New Zealand than in Australia.

That was one reason we decided to play a trial against Auckland. I was able to convince the Manly board we would get a good crowd and it would be great PR.

Little did we know there was a pumped-up, fired-up and tooled-up Auckland team waiting to tear us apart. That's exactly what they did.

Quite frankly, it was an on-field disaster for the much-vaunted Sea Eagles. Not only did the Tony Tuimavave-inspired Auckland beat us on the scoreboard, but there was carnage in the dressing room as we ended with a number of key players out injured for a major part of the year. They included gun halfback Geoff Toovey with a broken jaw and our young loose forward Nik Kosef, who suffered cruciate ligament damage.

Toovey had made the fatal error of putting his head in the wrong place to try to tackle charging front-rower Francis Leota, a ferocious forward who played a blinder.

I remember our CEO, the late Doug Daley, surveying our dressing-room full of battered bodies and saying, "Bloody hell, Lowie, what was all that about?"

I should have anticipated the hot reception because Auckland's coach was Owen Wright. He was not only a former Kiwi but he also had great coaching genes from his dad, the late Jack Wright. It proved costly.

It was a great example of how unheralded New Zealand players took every chance to match a visiting big-name team from Australia. Now the Warriors are in a week-to-week battle with the best players Australia has to offer.

I wrote before the first game of the season that if the Warriors had two points on the board after five rounds it will have been an outstanding effort considering they started from near oblivion. Now only Manly stand in their way. But they will be a tough nut to crack.

They are very well balanced, with strike players in all the right areas. This balance gives them the edge. They are one of the few teams that have their combinations right, with flair, speed, skill and toughness all in the right positions

If they are not knocked about with injuries, I rate them as genuine premiership contenders.

Their captain and loose forward Ben Kennedy is in the best form of his career and with their two second-rowers, the hard-working Andrew Watmough and veteran Steve Menzies, form the best back-three combination in the NRL.

Major off-season buys halfback Matt Orford and centre Steve Bell, both from the Storm, have added a touch of class to a speedy backline - and here the Warriors need to be on red alert.

Coach Des Hasler has also managed to develop a good work ethic in his pack and, with the Warriors forwards showing in the last couple of games they are not shy in the hard work area, the game promises to draw a great crowd.

Manly still have a huge number of fans in New Zealand.

There are a number of tremendous individual contests to look forward to - the clash of the halves not the least of them. Much of the Warriors' season is riding on halfback Nathan Fien, and with Orford showing all the signs last week against the Roosters he is near his best, this contest will be one of the most critical.

I suspect the Warriors' tactics will be to slow the game down using the power of their forwards. But I hope winger Manu Vatuvei gets plenty of early ball because he is in great form.

In another interesting tussle, the Warriors have the edge in experience with their front rowers Steve Price and Ruben Wiki over Jason King and Ben Kite.

Warriors coach Ivan Cleary is a Manly junior and also former teammate of Des Hasler.

Cleary has handled a very difficult start to his career with honesty, composure and dignity and I think it is coming through in his team.

Let's hope the Warriors can spoil another Manly picnic.

But I must confess, I'm still a Manly man.