Dragons v Sea Eagles
There is more to this game than first meets the eye when the Sea Eagles travel to Jubilee Oval to take on the might of the St George Illawarra Dragons on Monday night.
Both clubs lead their respective halves of the ladder. With Manly sitting on top of the competition and looking to secure the minor premiership, the Dragons will be in it to try and sneak their way into the top eight from 11th place.
If you look closely at each side’s past five games there are some telling signs that indicate this game may well be a cracker. Consider this – both the Dragons and Manly have won four of their past five games so momentum will be essential in this fixture.
From this particular run in form they have both beaten the Sharks to nil. They have both lost to an (equal) ladder leader with the Panthers accounting for the Dragons and Manly losing out to the Bulldogs and they have beaten usual difficult sides in the Storm (Dragons won 24-12) and Roosters (Sea Eagles won 24-16).
Such runs in form will ensure that this game will be an apt finish to the RiseForAlex Round.
The Dragons will honour their former teammate Alex McKinnon on Monday night and have named Josh Dugan to replace Peter Mata'utia. In other team changes, Mike Cooper and Jack Stockwell do the old switcheroo between the bench and the starting team.
The Sea Eagles will be celebrating Jamie Buhrer's 100th game and Jorge Taufua, Anthony Watmough and Jason King all return in place of Clinton Gutherson, Justin Horo and Tyson Andrews respectively. Dunamis Lui and Tom Symonds have also swapped between the bench and the starting team for Manly.
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Watch Out Dragons: There seems to be an unwritten law at Manly that at least one back-rower must be suspended at all times. While Watmough returns for the Sea Eagles after being charged for a dangerous throw in Origin II, Justin Horo will be out for the next three games, suspended for a crusher tackle. Nonetheless the 14-time NSW representative Watmough is a more than worthy replacement considering his experience. The Manly back-rower is averaging 29.5 tackles and 121.9 metres per game this season.
With Watmough returning, young Jack de Belin will have to take his game to another level this weekend. With de Belin being named at lock due to Trent Merrin (shoulder) and Tyson Frizell (ankle) being injured, the 23-year-old will need to lift. After comparing the workload of de Belin and NSW representative Merrin the Red V might be in a bit of trouble around the centre of the park. Merrin has recorded on average 12.6 more tackles and 61.5 more metres than de Belin this season. Young Jack will need to play out of his skin if the Dragons are a hope.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: The Sea Eagles should never underestimate a good underdog. Although they have been one of the NRL's glamour teams over the past decade, even the Sea Eagles are susceptible to a slip up here and there. Big losses to the Tigers and Broncos this season have marred Manly at certain points and the Dragons will be searching for a similar outcome on Monday.
The Dragons’ recent run of form has coincided with the growing combination of Gareth Widdop, Benji Marshall and Adam Quinlan. The St George Illawarra spine is getting stronger each week and it showed when they took down the Cowboys 27-24 with Marshall especially showing that he doesn't look out of place in the famous Red V. Between the three of them they have recorded 24 try assists and 24 line break assists throughout the season.
Plays To Watch: The Dragons’ backline movements and passages of play have been superb over the past couple of weekends. There was no better example of this than their match against the Cowboys in Round 16 when they crossed for four of their five tries out wide. Jason Nightingale benefited exponentially with a hat-trick while Charly Runciman neatly finished off a solid cut-out pass from Widdop.
With the Sea Eagles dominating the Tigers last weekend nothing stood out more than Kieran Foran's second try of the evening. With the five-eighth standing deep and wide, Matt Ballin scooted from dummy half, engaging the Tigers’ marker and first defender in the meantime. After bringing Buhrer underneath him, Ballin looked to pass it on to Horo before shooting it back under for Foran who was running back inside on a diagonal angle to bust through and score. The game from there was too far gone for the Tigers to claw back.
Where It Will Be Won: The Dragons arguably have the smallest pack in the competition. Adding to their dilemma is the fact that Merrin will be missing this fixture. While Manly's forward pack looked unlikely to trouble many at the beginning of the season – Josh Starling and Jesse Sene-Lefao come to mind especially – they have been making plenty of inroads and deserve their place at the top of the ladder.
These teams have two of the more in-form spines at the moment so the forwards will need to lay the platform for their key players to shine if they want to secure another two competition points for their efforts.
The History: Played 21; Dragons 14, Sea Eagles 7. The Sea Eagles have struggled against the Dragons over time though they have won their past two fixtures against them including their 24-18 win on Monday night football in Round 8, 2013. Without their current streak they have over the Dragons, the Sea Eagles have only managed to beat their opponents five times since 1999.
What Are The Odds:
Twice the hold on Manly according to Sportsbet with their price of $1.44 certain to shorten as we get closer to kick-off. With only a skinny line of 6.5, punters are doing everything they can to back the Sea Eagles at the minus in handicap betting. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Matt Cecchin; Assistant Referee –Dave Munro; Sideline Officials – Rickey MacFarlane & Jeff Younis; Video Referees – Bernard Sutton and Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live: 7:00pm.
The Way We See It: With history and form behind them the Dragons wouldn't look out of place if they ended up in the winner's circle again to make it five from six and continue their resurgence under coach 'Mary' McGregor. Manly are suspicious on Monday nights having lost four of their last ten in the closing game of the round and were lucky to get away with the win against the Knights (15-14) in Round 10’s Monday night fixture. Considering they snuck away with the win the last time they faced the Dragons (coincidentally on a Monday night) the Sea Eagles may slip up and fall to a 2-6 record away from Brookvale in 2014. We’re calling an upset – Dragons by two.