Sea Eagles v Eels
Two fierce rivals come together at Brookvale Oval this Sunday and while on paper it has a bit of a David-and-Goliath look about it, the NRL so far this season has been anything but predictable.
Both the Sea Eagles and the Eels entered the competition together in 1947 and Manly-Warringah were comfortably the first to a title, beating Easts in the 1972 decider.
The maroon and whites extended their bragging rights over their western Sydney rivals in 1976 when they downed the Eels 13-10 in Parramatta's first grand final appearance. However the Eels extracted their revenge, beating Manly in consecutive deciders in 1982 and 1983, and it's been a bitter rivalry ever since.
Manly have chalked up a further four premierships since Parramatta's halcyon years in the 1980s and now lead the premiership race between the two clubs 8-4.
They extended their bragging rights further last year, with a combined 90-16 thrashing in the space of five weeks at Brookvale (50-10 in Round 17) and Parramatta (40-6 in Round 21). The first was a particularly fiery encounter, which saw Eels prop Mitch Allgood sent off for throwing a flurry of punches at the head of Manly centre Steve Matai.
Both those players will be in action again this week; Allgood rejoined Parramatta's 17 in Round 2 following the suspension to Nathan Peats. With Peats back this week Kenny Edwards goes from hooker to lock but Allgood holds his spot due to the suspension to Darcy Lussick, whose swinging arm on Rooster Jared Waerea-Hargreaves has earned him a four-week holiday.
It is the lone change to an Eels side humbled to the tune of 56-4 by the Roosters last week, with coach Brad Arthur giving the players a chance to make amends for that dismal performance.
It's a shame former Sea Eagle Lussick won't get to line up against his old club but keep an eye out for the return of former Manly prodigal son, Will Hopoate, in his first ever game at Brookvale in away team colours.
The Sea Eagles welcome back Glenn Stewart who starts at lock, pushing Jamie Buhrer – who deputised brilliantly in that role last week – to the pine and Jesse Sene-Lefao to 18th man.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: The Eels weren't scaring anyone last week but of their several glaring issues, one was a lack of direction out of dummy-half. Nathan Peats slotted into the side beautifully in their Round 1 triumph over the Warriors at Pirtek Stadium and his inclusion here could be massive. He made a team-high 46 tackles and an Issac Luke-esque 101 metres from 11 runs – 10 of which were darts from dummy half. We're not prepared to say the Eels fell apart in Round 2 solely due to his absence – the increased quality of opposition was no doubt a factor – but if he is indeed the glue that holds this side together they could be a lot more cohesive this week.
Watch Out Eels: Any side that can hold out the competition frontrunners while missing two of their most important players is not a side to take lightly. And two of Manly's best last week were the two players filling the shoes of Brett and Glenn Stewart. Peta Hiku made a team-high 147 metres at the back last week and has already notched seven tackle breaks in two games, while Buhrer's late line break sent Daly Cherry-Evans over for the scoreboard-levelling try (having already made more than 30 of his 39 tackles). Back at Fortress Brookvale and with Glenn Stewart back the Sea Eagles only get more dangerous.
Plays To Watch: The Eels have favoured their left edge in attack so far, with Semi Radradra notching four tries in two games running off danger man Manu Ma'u and also getting good service from Corey Norman and Willie Tonga, with Hayne slotting into several left-side shifts. For Manly it's been a lot of left edge so far, but with Glenn Stewart back look for the Cherry-Evans to Stewart to Lyon right side shift, with a Lyon flick pass to send David Williams over in the corner for at least one try.
Where It Will Be Won: The edges. Although the Eels got steamrollered through the middle last week it's their fringes they'll have to watch most intently. Parramatta's edges have had more holes than a block of Swiss cheese in a cage full of hungry mice in recent years and Manly have arguably the best left- and right-edge attack in the game. What's more, Manly's sliding defence is working a lot more smoothly, which could shut down try scoring sensation Radradra.
The History: Played 141; Sea Eagles 88, Eels 49, Drawn 4. Manly have well and truly had the wood over the Eels historically, and at Brookvale Oval the numbers get truly ugly: just 19 wins from 63 visits for the blue-and-golds. The Eels have won none of their past three and just three of their past 13 matches against Manly. Frighteningly for Eels fans, the blue-and-golds haven't won away from Parramatta since Round 21, 2012 - a run that now extends to 20 games. In a minor piece of reassurance, the clipboard-holder who masterminded that win was then-caretaker coach Brad Arthur.
What Are The Odds: Sportsbet has received more bets on this game than any other in Round 3, with money six to one for Manly, who are into the skinny quote of $1.22. The Eels' price is slithering backwards and they’re out to $4.00 already.
Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Grant Atkins; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Dan Eastwood; Video Referees – Chris Ward & Paul Mellor.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm.
The Way We See It: A week is a long time in rugby league, and tipping anything has been near impossible so far this year – but both the recent and historical form lines point in exactly the same direction, and that's a big win for the boys from the northern beaches. Manly by a lot.