Manly are preparing for Melbourne halfback Cooper Cronk to play in tonight's NRL grudge match at Brookvale Oval.

The Kangaroos star has been ruled out of the contest with a shoulder problem, but Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey is still mindful of some round-one mind games, with whispers suggesting Cronk may still have a chance to prove his fitness.

Toovey admits facing the Storm without Cronk would be a major boost to Manly's chances of ending their arch-rivals' run of 11 straight round-one wins.

But the Sea Eagles are still preparing with the mindset that Cronk will take his place in the big three, alongside Cameron Smith and Billy Slater.


"We've trained this week and prepared our video based on the fact we believe he will be playing," Toovey said.

"But if he doesn't, he doesn't.

Manly are facing a front-row crisis to start the year, and are still hoping to sign a player at the 11th hour to add some depth and experience.

Toovey admits he would love veteran prop Joe Galuvao, who retired last season, to return to the club for a swansong, but the dual grand final winner isn't prepared to make a comeback after injuring his Achilles during 2013.

Manly are expecting a big match from one of the props they let go last season, George Rose, with the crowd favourite making his return to Brookvale in Storm colours.

With the benefit of hindsight, the Sea Eagles might have tried to hold on to Rose, given Richie Fa'aoso's unexpected retirement due to a neck injury and Jason King's ongoing fitness concerns.

When at Manly, Rose had a habit of standing up in big grudge matches.

He starred against Canterbury in the hyped head-to-head with ex-coach Des Hasler in 2012 and in blockbusters against Melbourne and his original club the Sydney Roosters.


Manly have rookie Josh Starling starting alongside Brenton Lawrence up front, but Toovey says representative forward Anthony Watmough will take it upon himself to power the side down the park from the back row.