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Sea Eagles v Sharks preview

Sea Eagles v Sharks
Brookvale Oval
Sunday 3pm (AEST)

What a difference seven days makes in the world of rugby league.

This time last week Manly were flying high on the back of impressive wins over the Roosters and Souths, and Glenn Stewart and the Sea Eagles board were tip-toeing through the tulips of his contract negotiations. Meanwhile down in the Shire, the Sharks found themselves scuttling about on the bottom of the NRL sea with a life raft full of injured stars floating about on the sidelines.

Well, maybe not that big a difference. Manly are still one of the form teams of the competition despite their worst performance in years at a waterlogged Leichhardt Oval and Glenn Stewart’s future is murkier than Narrabeen lake when a hit by sou-westerly.

The Sharks, meanwhile, are still swimming around the shallow end of the NRL ladder despite their 31-point thumping of the Warriors but the nips are getting bigger for the Cronulla boys, with Jeff Robson settling back in at halfback and the likes of Gallen, Lewis, Ryan and Tupou all getting closer to returning by the day.

Regardless of their contrasting starts to the year, both these sides could use a healthy dose of consistency. So far Manly have followed impressive wins against Souths and the Roosters with uninspiring showings against Parramatta and the Tigers, while for the Sharks there’s an obvious aim: Turn their early string of drubbings and heartbreakers into more 30-point wins.

Cronulla has welcomed their trips to the other end of Sydney about as much as an outhouse breeze over the years and with good reason: They possess a dismal record of just six wins from their last 44 ventures to the northern beaches graveyard of Brookvale, easily their unhappiest of hunting grounds.

And in further statistical anomalies, Robson will play his 50th match for the Sharks against the club he debuted for back in 2004. Bear with us here. He played against the Sharks that day at Brookvale, and then in his first game for the Sharks in 2012, Robson shaped up against, you guessed it, Manly.

So he’ll be playing his 50th match for the Sharks against the club he debuted for against the club he now plays for. Confused as a cow on Astroturf? Yeah, us too. On both occasions the Sharks got up, so Peter Sharp will be hoping the little fella’s streak continues in milestone matches featuring the Sea Eagles.

For Manly, Glenn Stewart and James Hasson return from injury and NSW Cup respectively, coming in for Jesse Sene-Lefao and Tom Symonds, while the Sharks take the same 17 in as last week but Chris Heighington moves from the bench into the starting side for Tinirau Arona.


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Watch Out Sea Eagles: It’s that man Robson that should have the Sea Eagles wary. While the unassuming country boy was solid with a try assist and 193 kicking metres in his return from injury against the Warriors, it’s the pressure he takes off halves partner Todd Carney that is Robson’s magic play, with the mercurial five-eighth setting up three tries when allowed to concentrate on his running game as Robson took care of the organisational duties.

Expect Robson’s influence to grow as he gets more minutes under belt as well, the crafty No.7 has a handy short kicking game and had a hand in eight tries for the Sharks last year.

Watch Out Sharks: What is this? Bizarro World? Believe it or not Manly have won the three matches Brett Stewart has watched from the stands this year, while losing the two the Snake has started, flying in the face of the rugby league wives tale that Manly can’t win without their crafty custodian.

Rest assured the Sharks won’t be buying into it, as Stewart still leads Manly’s try assist column with four from just two hours of football this year. Throw in the Snake’s unrivalled try-scoring feats on his favourite patch of grass – he’s up to 74 from 77 appearances at Brookvale – and the Sharks will want to be on their toes whenever he comes within cooee of the ball.

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Plays To Watch: Carney hitting Nathan Stapleton on the chest with those picturesque long balls and Sam Tagataese following his five-eighth around like a bad smell, after a sublime short ball put the big man over for his first meat pie of the season.

For Manly, Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran chipping for the likes of Stewart and Jamie Lyon, two of the best kick chasers in the game. Also, Anthony Watmough and Steve Matai backing their ability to run over the top of the Sharks’ shaky right-side defence of Carney and Blake Ayshford.

Where It Will Be Won: Both sides have had no trouble rolling up field this year, with the Sharks ranked best in the league for all running metres (3888) and the Sea Eagles following close behind with 3697 metres.

But while Manly also sit second in terms of metres conceded (2631), Cronulla have been rolling out the red carpet for the opposition in conceding a competition-worst of 4226 metres. Unless they can keep the Sea Eagles forwards under wraps, Cherry-Evans and Foran are going to have one hell of a silver platter to work their magic from.

The History: Played 82 – Sea Eagles 57, Sharks 23, drawn 2. It’s been all Manly of late, with the Sea Eagles claiming eight of their last nine clashes against the Sharks, including last year’s entertaining finals encounter when they put an end to Cronulla’s 2013 hopes.

What Are The Odds: Manly are the short priced $1.26 favourites with Sportsbet.com.au – shortest price of any side this round – with 75 per cent of all money going on them. The Sharks are the $3.75 outsiders. Interestingly though, bets are two to one in favour of the Sharks so there’s some thought that they can roll Manly here.

Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Adam Devcich; Touch Judges – Michael Wise & Nick Beashel; Video Referees – Henry Perenara & Andrew Dunemann.

Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm (AEST)

The Way We See It: Given Manly’s yo-yo impression is due for another upswing, Cronulla could well be up against it as we continue our Sunday footy love affair with the NRL’s suburban grounds. The Sharks still look a few good men and a few weeks short of being able to challenge the competition’s big dogs but even if they were firing on all cylinders that record at Brookvale is so bad you couldn’t logically tip against it. And yes we’re well aware that abandoning logic has been the soundest tipping method by far this year. In any case, Manly by 10.

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