Sea Eagles v Raiders
Another Sunday afternoon of suburban footy beckons in Round 8, featuring two sides coming off resolute comeback wins in Round 7.
For Manly, much of the talk has been about the awarding of a try to Kieran Foran despite Jamie Buhrer appearing to have impeded Cowboy Ray Thompson - but it was still an otherwise remarkable comeback from one of the NRL's most resilient sides.
The bad news for Manly out of that one is the knee injury to Foran, which will keep him out for up to a month (in what is also a massive blow to New Zealand's Test hopes).
Foran was absolutely everywhere during that fightback, putting Brett Stewart through a gap to set up the try to Jorge Taufua that started it all, scoring himself then putting on a courageous short ball to send Jamie Buhrer over for the match winner.
It highlights the quality of the Manly roster that Foran's replacement at halfback this week will be Daly Cherry-Evans, who returns from a week off with leg soreness – his first ever game missed due to injury – to partner Jamie Lyon in the halves.
Jason King has been named to return from a groin strain that has kept him out for a fortnight, pushing Jesse Sene-Lefao to 18th man. Anthony Watmough has been named despite playing just half an hour in Round 7 before going off with an arm injury.
For the Raiders, after notching their third win of the season and breaking a six-game home ground drought against the visiting Storm, they should travel to Brooky with as much confidence as they've had at any stage this year.
To come from two tries down inside the final half hour against the Storm – traditionally one of the most effective frontrunners in rugby league – is no mean feat. They have a few players – last week's man of the match Jarrod Croker, Origin hopeful Shaun Fensom, Italy World Cup prop Paul Vaughan and Brisbane-bound-but-maybe-not fullback Anthony Milford – in close to career-best form, and the new halves combination of Terry Campese and Jack Wighton is looking more fluid with every outing.
Their giant forwards are also all chipping in and working as a team, making them a potential bogy side for anyone. With no injury or suspension concerns coach Ricky Stuart has named an unchanged 17, with Jake Foster added to the bench in jersey 18.
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Watch Out Sea Eagles: Paul Vaughan's late try not only showed amazing pace and agility for a big man, it proved Manly aren't the only side that can pull a match out of the fire with only a minute or two to go. Vaughan has gone from strength to strength already this year, notching three tries (not bad for a bench prop!), making 165 tackles with just four misses for an almost 98 per cent effective rate, while running over 100 metres per match and stepping up for a near 80-minute shift when Joel Edwards went off against Penrith. He's part of a big and energetic bench that looks to be adapting to a set of rule changes that at first didn't look to suit the Raiders' oversized pack. With quality forwards like Dave Shillington and Brett White starting, Manly will need to make sure they don't take their foot off the gas when the bench comes on.
Watch Out Raiders: The team that's never done and dusted did it again last week, proving you can't stop for breath for even a second when you take on the Sea Eagles. Last week it was Foran, who will miss this one, but this week it could just be his replacement, one Daly Cherry-Evans. DCE isn't having his biggest season to date but there has still been plenty of quality, and he was heavily involved in the late surge to get home against the Eels in Round 3 – the only other match this year Foran has missed. The World Cup and Premiership winning playmaker should be well rested after a week off to get a troublesome leg right and will shoulder the load with Foran out. With just one try and one try assist in six games, look for one of 2013's standout players to make his mark sooner rather than later.
Plays To Watch: Manly fullback Brett Stewart has been in prime form in the four games he's played, notching a competition-high 10 try assists by slotting perfectly into Manly's left- and right-side shifts, popping quick passes or sneaky grubbers. He's favoured the left so far the year, as attested by centre Steve Matai's nine tries. For Canberra, their attack also hinges around the man in the No.1 jersey and Milford, a different style of player to Stewart, has also been heavily involved. Look for him to inject himself into the line when Canberra attacks and bring out the odd chip wide to his wingers or support the angled runs and short kicks of Jack Wighton.
Where It Will Be Won:
Containing the big men. The likes of Shillington, White, Tilse and Vaughan have been good all year for Canberra and real standouts in the matches they've won. Manly has had a far smaller reliance on their bench – Geoff Toovey frequently uses the likes of James Hasson, Jesse Sene-Lefao and Dunamis Lui for less than half an hour each per match, and under 15 minutes in a whole game on a few occasions. Bringing that impact on late paid dividends against Souths in Round 2 when Manly looked like getting run down but if workhorse back-rower Anthony Watmough does indeed succumb to his elbow complaint, Toovey won't quite have the same luxury here. Manly's bench will need to be on their game, and used smartly by Toovey, if the side is going to get through a stern examination from Canberra's big pack.
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The History: Played 46; Manly 28, Canberra 17, drawn 1. Manly have been a bit of a bogy side for the Green Machine of late – the Sea Eagles have won the past four battles, and 11 of the past 13. If it's any comfort at all for Canberra, the two times they've beaten the northern beaches boys in those 13 games (stretching all the way back to 2004!) have been at Brookvale.
What Are The Odds: Although Manly are $1.40 favourites the money is virtually even at the moment, with some support for Canberra to cause an upset at $3.00 with Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Chris James; Touch Judges – Jeff Younis & Gavin Morris; Video Referees – Ashley Klein & Matt Rodwell.
Televised: Fox Sports, Live, 2pm.
The Way We See It: The numbers don't make pretty reading for Canberra but they're not out of it by any stretch; indeed they look to be building to something. We'll play it safe though – Manly at Brookvale on a Sunday afternoon against a team they've had the wood over for some time sways us to stick with the home side by 12 points.