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Sea Eagles v Cowboys preview

Sea Eagles v Cowboys preview

Sea Eagles v Cowboys
Central Coast Stadium
Friday 7.40pm

Never let it be said that with Manly-Warringah you're never sure what you're going to get. We'll excuse an off Sunday at Leichhardt, because for the past nine seasons the men from the peninsula have been a model of consistency.

Even losing their coach in dramatic fashion a week after winning the 2011 premiership couldn't slow them down as Geoff Toovey guided a unified playing group to a preliminary final and then the grand final in his first two seasons in charge.

Yes, there are some fresh faces in this Sea Eagles team of 2014 but while ever Jason King, Anthony Watmough, Glenn and Brett Stewart, Kieran Foran, and Jamie Lyon are present, they will deliver an unrelenting brand of football that most teams find too confronting to get the better of.

Moving this clash up the freeway to Gosford's Central Coast Stadium has the potential to undermine their home-ground advantage but with the Central Coast to be flooded by holiday traffic and $10 tickets for adults and $25 family tickets to be had, there should be plenty of Manly fans willing to spend Good Friday at the footy.

By the time the Cowboys arrive in Gosford they'll be sick of being in transit having had their travel plans interrupted by Cyclone Ita that hit Townsville on Sunday. Following their loss to the Tigers last Saturday, the North Queensland players didn't get home until Monday night and then on Thursday are due back at the airport to head for another night at their regular Sydney hotel.

It's been a challenging start to Paul Green's reign at North Queensland and it doesn't get any easier on Friday night.

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Watch Out Cowboys: For a team that is supposed to have the best centre in the world patrolling the right side, the Sea Eagles left centre is doing a hell of a job as the next in line. Four times in just six games Steve Matai has crossed for a double including two in the past two weeks and with eight line-breaks he is level with Eels sensation Semi Radradra for the most line breaks in the competition.

The former Kiwi international has four line-break assists and three try assists and two weeks ago against the Tigers – in a well-beaten team – recorded six tackle breaks. He walks the fine line of controlled aggression and ill-discipline but in 2014 Matai's contribution to the Manly cause has been nothing but positive and his match-up with Brent Tate promises to be one of the highlights of the night.

Manly welcome back Jason King for this match, meaning Jesse Sene-Lefao goes back to 18th man. For the Cowboys, a hamstring injury to Antonio Winterstein has handed a debut to 21-year-old Curtis Rona on the wing. Glenn Hall has also been added to an extended bench.

Watch Out Sea Eagles: Judging by his work last weekend Cowboys co-captain Matthew Scott appears to be getting really sick and tired of losing. Not only were his numbers in both hit-ups and tackles his highest of the season, but the ferocity of some of his defensive work and the power of his charges into the Tigers defence were the trademarks of a man determined to drag his side out of the mire.

His 741.4 hit-up metres across the season is ranked sixth in the competition and with the representative season just around the corner, the 15-Test and 14-Origin representative is warming to the task nicely. He will make it a personal mission to face up to the likes of King, Watmough and Glenn Stewart in winning the middle for his side.

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Plays To Watch: Manly has long been lauded for their right-side attack, which links Glenn Stewart, Daly Cherry-Evans and Lyon in a pure footballing triumvirate that poses a host of exacting questions to the defence at any one time. The bad news for the Cowboys is that the Sea Eagles' left edge is just as lethal.

While Lyon and winger David Williams combined for 36 tries on the right in 2013, their teammates on the opposite side of the field weren't faring too badly either, Steve Matai and Jorge Taufua crossing 32 times. Already in 2014 Matai has crossed for eight of his team's total 18 tries and Taufua's return against the Sharks signalled he wants in on the action as well.

The Cowboys' stuttering attack could produce only one try in the wet conditions against the Wests Tigers last weekend, with Brent Tate the beneficiary of a loose ball that was collected by Thurston before putting the veteran centre across out wide.

Other than Thurston's individual brilliance, the Cowboys have caused most problems in 2014 when they have shifted to the right and used fullback Michael Morgan to link with Tate, with a couple of clever variations. Expect them to try and lure Matai off his line with just such a play.

Where It Will Be Won: For two teams placed eight spots apart on the competition ladder, little statistically separates these two teams. Manly have scored one more try than the Cowboys, while both have conceded 16. The Sea Eagles have made eight more line-breaks, yet the Cowboys have had their defensive line breached on seven less occasions. The Cowboys have three more offloads, two less errors and have completed 10 more sets, yet it's the Sea Eagles who have more try assists and more wins on the board.

Other than a shock loss to the Tigers, Manly have shown that they are the same battle-hardened outfit that they have been for the past decade while the Cowboys are still adjusting to life under new coach Paul Green. This game will be won simply by the team who has made it a habit of winning.

The History: Played 21; Sea Eagles 14, Cowboys 7. It's been all one-way traffic in clashes between these two sides in recent years with Manly taking the two points in each of the past five meetings. In an ominous sign for Cowboys fans, Jorge Taufua has scored a try in the past two encounters and given his thunderous return to the NRL arena last weekend is on course to make it three in succession. The only time these two combatants have met at Gosford previously was back in 2008 and while it was a 38-6 hiding in favour of Manly, none of the point-scorers on that night will be lining up in maroon and white on Friday night.

What Are The Odds: Not a lot of action in this one. Manly ($1.36) are the clear favourites with, but punters haven’t really bitten yet with some support for the Cowboys at $3.30. 

Match Officials: Referee - Gavin Badger; Assistant Referee: Adam Devcich; Touch Judges - Jason Walsh & Dave Ryan; Video Referees - Bernard Sutton & Paul Mellor.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (NSW); Delayed 9.30pm (Qld).

The Way We See It: A disrupted preparation due to the interference of Cyclone Ita and a second successive trip to Sydney – and bus trip up the M1 to Gosford on Friday morning – is a significant hurdle for the Cowboys to overcome. On the back of a 'Brookie' belting of the Sharks and boasting a squad with no major injury concerns, the Sea Eagles are set up for another first-half ambush that netted them four tries in the opening 32 minutes last Sunday. If any travel sickness has set into the Cowboys camp, Manly will make them pay. Sea Eagles by 10 points.

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