Dan Walsh, Staff Writer
Roosters v Sea Eagles
Friday 7.40 (AEDT)
It's enough to put a spring in your step, a song in your heart and a suspicious absence in all family and social occasions as any serious rugby league fan is either turning up or tuning in to this one.
It's the grand final rematch baby, and anniversaries/best mate's wedding/Grandma's birthday be damned, you should give yourself an uppercut if you miss another battle between these feathered foes.
Last year's decider was one for the ages, and regardless of what either side says while being nice and polite to the media this week, rest assured Manly will be out for revenge, and the Roosters will be hell bent on giving them sweet fudge all.
While a few stars will be watching from the stands there are still enough match-ups across the park to have you pulling your best Homer Simpson drooling impression.
Killer and Wolfman v Jenko and RTS... Junior v DCE... Choc v Cordner... JWH v anyone who goes near him...
Get us a napkin, stat.
It's testament to the class of both these sides that they came out on top in their respective clashes despite being nowhere near their best last weekend, when the Roosters rattled up two tries in the last five minutes to slay the Broncos and Many left their run until a lazy 30 seconds remaining against the Eels.
Whichever side loses this week will be 2-2 after a month of football, which is not a true reflection of how either club has played, but regardless a fair old cherry in terms of motivation. As if these two sides needed anything extra.
In team news Jesse Sene-Lefao comes in for the suspended Jason King, while Tony Satini has been named as cover for Kieran Foran, who is battling a persistent calf injury.
The Roosters are unchanged from last week's match in Brisbane.
Roosters and Manly Fans will be guaranteed undercover seating - Allianz Stadium has agreed to open the upper deck undercover seating on the eastern side of the Stadium (accessible via Gate G).
Watch Out Roosters: Steve Matai has been terrorising right-edge defences this year and is the in-form centre of the competition after three rounds, with four tries, four line breaks and an average of 109 metres a match to his name. The tough-as-teak Kiwi has also been bringing home the bacon for those around him with two try assists and three line break assists, and don't think Trent Robinson hasn't prepped Mitchell Pearce and Shaun Kenny-Dowall of these numbers. The Broncos exposed the pair's combination out wide with two second-half tries between the pair last week, and anything but their best will result in Matai running amok.
Closer to the ruck Anthony Watmough has also hit the ground running in 2014, with the angry ant's leg speed looking tailor-made for the faster game pace we've seen across the opening weeks of the season. The NSW and Australian stalwart has made 11 tackle breaks and six offloads and is second only to the Titans Greg Bird for running metres (448) made by a forward.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: The Roosters are leading the competition for line breaks this year with 20, and while 14 of these came as the Chooks breezed through Parramatta's turnstile defence they haven't taken a booster shot of confidence when it comes to breaking the line. Mitchell Pearce in particular will have his tail up after putting his teammates into the backfield an impressive eight times this year (three ahead of the next best in the league, Johnathan Thurston), and back-rowers Mitch Aubusson and Boyd Cordner have reaped the benefits with three line breaks each this year.
Plays To Watch: Both fullbacks have had their issues cleaning up kicks at the back so far this year, so look for them to be targeted by the two best all-round kicking games in the competition.
Anthony Minichello last week gave the Broncos their second try when he fumbled a skidding grubber from Ben Hunt and also had his issues in the Round 1 loss to the Rabbitohs, while opposite number Peta Hiku implemented his own catch -and-release policy against the Storm before improving in recent weeks.
Likewise Roosters halves Pearce and Maloney will not have forgotten their successful aerial assault on David Williams last October, when the Wolfman's indecisiveness under the high ball resulted in the opening try to Daniel Tupou, a half-spray from Brett Stewart and a long, lonely summer trying to put a forgettable night behind him.
Where It Will Be Won: With both side's possessing sizzling outside men and the halves almost cancelling each other out this is the kind of match that will be decided up front. And won't the big boppers be salivating.
The Roosters' pack can hang their hat on conceding just 34 points across four matches against the Sea Eagles last year, and don't be surprised if Jared Waerea-Hargreaves gives them a subtle reminder of this.
How Manly would love to have enforcer Jason King leading them into battle in this one, but his enforced absence will mean young props Josh Starling, James Hasson and Dunamis Lui need to step up and take it to the premiers.
The History: Played 133; Sea Eagles 84, Roosters 47, drawn 2. The Chooks have had the wood over Manly of late, coming up trumps in all four clashes in 2013. And as with so many of their wins in 2013, their defence has proved the difference between the two sides, conceding just six tries to the 2009 and 2011 champions last year.
What Are The Odds: Despite the Roosters being the favourites, punters can't split these two, with the money invested at Sportsbet.com.au virtually even. In fact, despite being $2.25 underdogs, Manly have actually had more bets on them.
Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Gavin Reynolds; Touch Judges – Chris James & Jason Walsh; Video Referees – Steve Clark and Luke Patten.
Televised: Channel 9 - Live 7.30 pm (NSW), delayed 9.30pm (Qld).
The Way We See It: The Roosters start as warm favourites and rightly so, with a brighter start to the season and near full-strength side. But as Manly have proved time and time again they love nothing more than a scrap, and would love nothing more than atoning for last October's disappointment. The Chooks do look to have a slight edge up front, and this should see them home in another tight one. Roosters by 4 points.
• Statistics: Champion Stats.
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