Nigel Wall,, NRL.com
Sea Eagles v Knights
If the Knights bring the same early firepower that scorched the Wests Tigers last Monday night and the Sea Eagles replicate their devastating first 40 minutes from the last time these sides met, this frantic showdown could run the poor Brookvale Oval scoreboard attendant ragged.
Manly fans who attended their side’s Round 24 match against Newcastle at home base last season will well remember the 38-4 scoreline they racked up inside the opening 37 minutes en route to knocking the Knights out of the 2012 finals race.
But their anticipation of a repeat performance here, on the back of the side’s dominant first-up 22-14 win over the Broncos in their season opener in Brisbane, would be tempered by Newcastle’s own devastating first-round form that saw them pummel the Wests Tigers into submission, with a 24-6 halftime lead blowing out to a 36-point advantage with still 25 minutes to go before they emerged 42-10 winners.
With a faster ruck speed the most noticeable change over the opening eight games of the 2013 Telstra Premiership, this match-up brings together two of the sides that were among the best at upping the ante in that department in Round 1.
The question is which side will keep that momentum flowing?
In team selections, Manly coach Geoff Toovey has named an unchanged line-up to the squad that got the job done in Brisbane, adding new recruit Tom Symonds (ex-Roosters) to the extended bench in jersey No.20.
Meanwhile Wayne Bennett has similarly named an unchanged 17 (go figure!) with David Fa’alogo the extra man in jersey No.18.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: With his confidence sky-high expect Akuila Uate to maintain his devastating form from last Monday, when he scored a hat-trick of tries inside 50 minutes, punched holes through the Tigers’ defence on four occasions, left 11 would-be tacklers spitting out Hunter Stadium turf and accumulated 163 metres.
Inside Uate, Dane Gagai – in our opinion a young doppelganger for injured teammate Timana Tahu – looks set for a breakout season and will put the blowtorch to Steve Matai’s defence which can be suspect on occasion (his 69 misses in 2012 were the most by any centre). With no-nonsense back-rower Beau Scott helping him out in defence the young centre was left to concentrate on his attack – and didn’t he deliver, scoring a double, running 12 times for 153 metres and adding a line-break.
Watch Out Knights: Although emphatic winners last Monday the Knights will need to work on their left-edge goal-line defence after the Tigers breached it twice to score tries.
Also, Newcastle mustn’t get carried away with the ease their win – to put things in perspective, they kept their opponents to just 812 metres all night, a figure that would have grabbed fewest metres by any team last year from the 192 scheduled games through Round 26!
Steve Matai needs to be contained – last week he punished the Broncos out wide, scoring two tries, making two line-breaks, three tackle-breaks and 177 metres in a rousing start to the year.
Plays To Watch: Jorge Taufua (12 runs for 183 metres last week) and Akuila Uate trying to run rings around each other; Manly halves Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans looking to continue their crisp season start; Jamie Buhrer relishing playing bigger minutes (19 runs, 133 metres and 28 tackles last week); Jamie Lyon leaving his mark after a subdued game against the Broncos; James McManus putting AFL stars to shame with his fantastic leaps for Jarrod Mullen cross-field bombs; Kurt Gidley’s creativity getting him back in Laurie Daley’s calculations for Origin; Beau Scott standing tall on the right edge looking to suck in defenders before offloading to Uate or Gagai.
Key Match-Up: Brett Stewart v Darius Boyd. These top-level representative players hit the ground running last week, with Stewart notching a try assist and a line-break assist; he’ll relish opposing the Knights at Brookvale again after scoring twice against them last time around, as well as busting them open on three occasions courtesy of a game-high 10 tackle-breaks.
Meanwhile Boyd had his best game in Knights colours last week; he charged into the defensive line with his vigour of old and it certainly paid off – he departed the arena with 148 metres from 16 runs, with a line-break assist and try assist to go with five tackle-breaks. Boyd was best on ground for the Knights last time they squared off with the Sea Eagles, with two line-breaks and a pair of line-break assists. Clearly he lifts for head-to-head battles with the Manly custodian.
It’s likely whoever comes out on top in this battle will be singing the team song in the dressing sheds after fulltime.
Where It Will Be Won: Keeping the errors to a minimum, which in turn will affect completions, the pace of play and also each side’s missed tackle count.
Both teams showed excellent discipline with the ball in hand last week, making just eight errors apiece (second fewest). In turn they recorded high completion rates (Newcastle 85%, Manly 80%) and low missed tackles (Newcastle 10 – fewest overall – to Manly’s 13).
Whichever of these in-form sides maintains their red-hot execution levels will gain a huge advantage.
The History: Played 42; Sea Eagles 25, Knights 17. The Sea Eagles have won six of the past nine clashes and boast a commanding 11-2 advantage in encounters on the northern beaches.
Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Jeff Younis; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Gavin Badger.
Televised: Fox Sports 1HD – Live 6.30pm.
The Way We See It: Certainly the Knights’ form last week was irresistible but the journey down the F3 could deliver them a reality check. After conceding the opening try against the Tigers they weren’t pressed for the remainder of the match and this week’s opponent is a much more sustained force. Running onto Brookvale Oval for the first time in 2013 before what’s likely to be a healthy crowd, the Sea Eagles look the smart selection – although another Knights blindsiding would not surprise. Manly by six points, with Jamie Lyon the hero.