Ben Blaschke,, NRL.com
Sea Eagles v Rabbitohs
Like the waves at nearby Manly Beach, the big games just keep coming in 2013 and Friday night’s clash between the Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs looms as one of the best of the season.
While Melbourne have again set the standard so far with six wins from six, Manly and Souths sit just behind them on the NRL ladder with only a single loss apiece and plenty to play for in this Round 7 clash. The Rabbitohs’ loss to Melbourne last start dented their own perfect start to the year but rest assured that both of these sides will be keen to notch a win that would announce them as the Storm’s No.1 threat in 2013.
It has now been five weeks since the Sea Eagles tasted the sole defeat of their current campaign against the Gold Coast and with comfortable wins over Wests Tigers, Canterbury and Cronulla in the meantime they will no doubt see Souths as the real test of just where they are right now.
Manly’s forward pack is one of the most formidable in the Telstra Premiership and proven performers on the big stage over a number of years but it was interesting to see back-rower Anthony Watmough label this current South Sydney pack as the biggest he has ever seen. Perhaps he wasn’t joking when he quipped that there should be a weight-salary cap introduced!
Certainly they will have their work cut out for them against monsters such as Sam and George Burgess, Roy Asotasi and Ben Te’o, although rumours that Glenn Stewart could return from injury – even though he hasn’t been officially named – are promising for Eagles fans.
Still, it is the promise of the best attacking football we’ve seen all year that makes this game so mouth-watering.
Manly’s halves pairing of Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans have been superb this season, with Foran coming off the added high of having captained his country for the first time in last week’s Anzac Test following the late withdrawal of Simon Mannering. Likewise, South Sydney duo John Sutton and Adam Reynolds have masterminded the Rabbitohs’ surge with Reynolds one of the better performers in Sunday’s City-Country clash in Coffs Harbour.
And the battle of the custodians will be worth its weight in gold with Brett Stewart lining up against the brilliance of Greg Inglis.
Manly have refrained from naming Glenn Stewart, who is racing the clock to play his first game of the year after suffering a knee injury in the pre-season, but welcome back winger David Williams in place of youngster Peter Hiku. David Gower comes onto the bench with Joe Galuvao’s season over with an Achilles injury.
Souths have named the same side that went down to Melbourne last start with Michael Crocker, Justin Hunt and Jason Clark the extra men on an extended 20-man bench.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: The kicking game of South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds is one of his side’s greatest weapons and as he showed last weekend when he kicked two 40/20s and scored a clever solo try from a grubber for City Origin, he is lethal from both long and short range.
Reynolds’ 79 kicks is the most by any player in the NRL this season other than Newcastle’s Jarrod Mullen (101); however there is no doubt that it is the deadly accuracy of his attacking kicks that poses the greatest threat to Manly’s line on Friday night. The positional play of Sea Eagles fullback Brett Stewart and wingers Jorge Taufua and David Williams will be vital because Reynolds has a wonderful eye for opportunity and the ability to put the ball on the chest of his outside men at will.
Watch Out Rabbitohs: Young Sea Eagles winger Jorge Taufua is enjoying a seriously remarkable season so far on Manly’s left side. After six games he tops the side’s tryscoring list with seven, ranks fifth in the NRL for average metres with 153 and also leads the Sea Eagles for total metres (918), line-breaks (8) and tackle-breaks (19). His opposite number, Andrew Everingham, can expect plenty of traffic to come his way.
Plays To Watch: Manly back-rower Justin Horo was a late pick-up by the Sea Eagles as they looked to bolster their pack in 2013 but he has emerged as a secret weapon on the left edge. In fact, his combination with Kieran Foran is worth keeping an eye on. The pair have developed quite an understanding so far this season with Horo’s line running providing Foran with myriad options. Two tries the Sea Eagles have scored in their past two games show exactly where the danger lies. Against Canterbury in Round 5, Horo ran a brilliant ‘unders’ line that helped create an overlap when Brett Stewart came around the back as the second man. A week later Cronulla anticipated the same play but Foran hit Horo with a short ball instead, for the big man to crash over after just three minutes. Souths will need to be aware of all the options.
Key Match-Up: Brett Stewart v Greg Inglis – two men who can turn this match on its head.
Stewart boasts a remarkable career try-scoring record with 128 tries from 165 games and his support play and ability to slice through a gap have been features of Manly’s play since he made his NRL debut back in 2003.
Inglis has long been one of the game’s elite but has moved to a new level since being handed South Sydney’s famous No.1 jersey last season. His combination of speed and raw power (he leads all players for tackle-breaks in 2013 with 41) will make life difficult for the Sea Eagles this week.
Where It Will Be Won: Up front. South Sydney’s forward pack is arguably the most fearsome in the NRL and much of their success this year has been built on the tremendous momentum they’ve been able to gain through the middle which plays right into the hands of the direct style of play they prefer. But few packs boast the experience of Manly’s big men – Jason King, Brent Kite and Anthony Watmough have all played more than 200 NRL games while Matt Ballin and potential late inclusion Glenn Stewart have both played 150-plus. Fireworks await.
The History: Played 128; Sea Eagles 71, Rabbitohs 57. The Sea Eagles have won six of the past nine clashes between the sides and defeated the red and green 36-22 in their last clash at Brookvale in Round 18, 2011.
Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Adam Reid; Video Referees – Jared Maxwell & Matt Rodwell.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live from 7.30pm.
The Way We See It: This is probably the toughest match we’ve had to pick all season. Manly have barely put a foot wrong and should Glenn Stewart return from injury they will be desperately hard to beat at their Brookvale fortress. But the Bunnies have also been superb with their only loss coming in a tight affair against all-conquering Melbourne last start. They were hardly disgraced in that one and will be confident of returning to winning ways this week. We’re going to take the standard line when it’s too close to call and take the home ground advantage as the deciding factor. Sea Eagles to win by two points.