Nigel Wall,, NRL.com
Dragons v Sea Eagles
WIN Jubilee Oval
St George Illawarra, bludgeoned by the rampant Roosters on Anzac Day, return to their Kogarah base to take on the smarting Sea Eagles in a near-desperation-stakes clash that will either see them regain their footing around the middle of the NRL ladder or slip into no-man’s land.
The key to victory for them could be as simple as reacquainting themselves with WIN Jubilee Oval – tellingly the Dragons have yet to have their colours lowered by Manly at Kogarah in five clashes there and won 17-6 the last time they met at the venue in Round 4 last season.
Meanwhile Manly will be dwelling on the positives from the defeat dished out by South Sydney at ‘Fortress Brookvale’ last Friday night, with several sliding doors moments leaving them on the wrong side of the ledger for a 20-12 scoreline at fulltime.
That loss was just their second of the season and they remain comfortably entrenched in the top four; the Dragons on the other hand sit ninth – but could plummet as low as 13th should they lose and other results go against them.
Coach Steve Price, with an extended contract to run through 2015 in his back pocket, will be hoping for a better performance this week after his charges were largely uncompetitive against the tricolours at Allianz Stadium. Certainly the optimism fuelled by Jason Nightingale’s try just four minutes into the clash was washed away when the Roosters flooded over an uncommitted Dragons defence to notch three tries from the 15th to 21st minutes. Martin Kennedy’s try six minutes from the break for a 22-4 advantage at halftime further emphasised the tearaway momentum of the home side, who shrugged off 21 would-be tacklers in the first 40 minutes alone.
As for Manly, it’s likely their coach Geoff Toovey will still be scratching his head over the stats sheet that showed the maroon and white to be the dominant team in their Round 7 clash with the Bunnies. Manly made six line busts to Souths’ two, missed 16 tackles to the Rabbitohs’ 30, smashed the offloads count 16-4 and made two less errors.
The Dragons have just the one change for Monday night, with Will Matthews making way for Damien Cook, although he and Michael Weyman have been added to form an extended bench.
Meanwhile suspensions to Richie Fa’aoso and Steve Matai have seen some reshuffling within the Sea Eagles’ ranks. Tom Symonds moves from the bench to the centres as cover for Matai, with Peter Hiku joining the interchange, with David Gower filling Fa’aoso’s place on the bench. A shoulder injury to co-captain Jason King sees Jesse Sene-Lefao called up to the pine, with Esi Tonga and George Rose rounding out the extended squad.
Watch Out Dragons: Brett Stewart wasn’t at the top of his game against the Rabbitohs, missing a crucial tackle on Greg Inglis that allowed the Rabbitoh to score a try. However, with Origin just around the corner you can be certain Wollongong junior Stewart will be focused on a killer game against the club that didn’t think he’d amount to much in the big time.
Speaking of ‘Killer’, Manly co-captain Jamie Lyon will continue to probe for opportunities on the right edge, linking with outside man Dave Williams. Lyon has scored two tries and has made three line-break assists and a try assist; he conjured two try assists as Manly scored four tries on the right edge the last time they met.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: Trent Merrin continues his rise up the ranks towards the NRL’s elite. Since morphing into an attacking lock forward in 2013 Merrin has churned out huge metres (133.7 a match – second behind Paul Gallen) and leads all players for promoting second-phase play with 19 offloads. He’s also averaging 33 tackles – all in a tick under an hour of game time.
Brett Morris is another threat that needs to be taken out of the equation. At his best a scintillating runner of the football, the Roosters showed last week that the secret to getting on top of the Dragons is to silence ‘B-Moz’. The speedster averages 134 metres a match – but was limited to only six runs and one tackle bust against the Roosters.
Plays To Watch: It should be a high-stakes offloading affair from both teams with the Dragons averaging 13.1 so far (second most in the NRL) and the Sea Eagles not far behind with 10 every 80 minutes (sixth most). Aside from Merrin, the home team will depend on Jason Nightingale (12), Matt Prior (nine), Brett Morris and Bronson Harrison (eight apiece). For Manly, keep an eye on Anthony Watmough who has made 15 to date (fifth most) as well as Daly Cherry-Evans and Justin Horo (seven each).
The Dragons yielded 16 offloads to the Roosters last week so it’s a fair chance the Sea Eagles may look to copy that plan.
Key Match-Up: Brett Morris and Daniel Vidot v Jorge Taufua and Dave Williams. Whichever wing combination spears through the opposition more often will most likely guide their side to a win.
Taufua has picked up where he left off in 2012 – he leads all wingers for line busts (10) and is averaging 154 metres (most by a winger) – while Williams (two busts) is regularly in the thick of the action by the right corner post.
For the Red V, Brett Morris has made more tackle-breaks than anyone else in his position (31) plus five line-breaks. In three games Daniel Vidot is averaging a line-break a game, has crossed for two tries and is running for 152 metres (second most behind Taufua).
Where It Will Be Won: In territory, both gained and conceded. That might sound simplistic but analysis of the metres made and yielded by these sides each week so far provides great insight.
Heading into last week’s Round 7 clashes Manly and St George Illawarra were locked at the top of the pile for metres gained with an average of 1441.2 per week. Heading into this clash Manly are outright first in the category, averaging 1443 despite the loss to Souths. However, the Dragons have slumped to fifth in the category (1403) after making just 1176 against the Roosters.
Compounding Steve Price’s woes this week is the fact Manly concede the fewest metres on average (1222.7) – while the Dragons concede the most metres (1455.9).
Put simply, if the Dragons don’t make at least 1400 metres this week their chances of a win will be slim.
The History: Played 20; Dragons 14, Sea Eagles 6. The Red V have built an imposing record over the past dozen years, including winning eight of the past 12 clashes.
Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Gavin Morris; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Dave Munro; Video Referees – Jared Maxwell & Matt Rodwell.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7pm.
The Way We See It: After three good wins the Dragons’ form evaporated against the Roosters last week. That’s a worry given they are coming up against another of the competition’s heavyweights on Monday. Manly lost few admirers in the loss to Souths and if they hold that form they deserve to be favourites here. Sea Eagles by eight points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats.