Nigel Wall,, NRL.com
Sea Eagles v Wests Tigers
Manly mentor Geoff Toovey is probably still shaking his head in disbelief following the Sea Eagles’ 16-14 loss to the Titans on the Gold Coast last Saturday – but he’ll know there’s no point in dwelling on the past if they’re to prepare adequately for their short-turnaround clash with the Wests Tigers in Gosford on Thursday.
Looking at Manly’s horrendous completions (just 64 per cent) and error count (14) you’d be excused for thinking the players were wearing oven mitts throughout the 80 minutes. Their fumble fingers and poor respect for possession saw the Titans gifted nine full sets of tackles more, enabling them to claw out 41 more hit-ups than the Sydneysiders.
However, despite that dominance and a 14-nil scoreline through three quarters of the match the Sea Eagles still managed a three-tries-to-two advantage and it was only the dead-eyed goal-kicking accuracy of Aidan Sezer (four from four) and the wayward radar of Jamie Lyon (one from three) that proved the difference.
Meanwhile the Wests Tigers’ good form over the past fortnight since their 42-10 mauling at the hands of the Knights in Round 1 has taken a heap of pressure off rookie coach Mick Potter. Despite accounting for the Panthers in Round 2 the Tigers entered last week’s clash with the promising Eels as distinct underdogs; however a blistering first half, including two tries to centre Chris Lawrence inside the opening 20 minutes, set up an 18-nil advantage that was always going to be tough for Parramatta to overturn.
The Tigers’ 31-18 win leaves them in eighth place, the lowest-ranked of six teams on four competition points – with Manly (third place) the highest-ranked of those teams with two wins.
Manly are unchanged from 1-13 this week, although interchange Richie Fa’aoso will miss one game after having his dangerous contact charge downgraded at the judiciary on Wednesday night; Jesse Sene-Lefao, Joe Galuvao, David Gower and Tom Symonds will make up the Manly interchange.
Meanwhile Tigers coach Mick Potter has just the one forced change, with veteran Matt Utai replacing the injured Marika Koroibete (ankle) on the left wing.
Manly hold a 2-1 advantage in games played at Bluetongue Stadium, including a 22-18 victory in Round 2 last season.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: Big Jorge Taufua remains a little shaky defending attacking kicks on Manly’s left wing. He made a complete meal of cleaning up an Albert Kelly grubber last week, resulting in a try to David Mead. That will not have been lost on Robbie Farah, Jacob Miller or Benji Marshall – especially given Manly conceded more tries to kicks last year than any team (29). Also, a Marshall grubber yielded a try to Beau Ryan down Sea Eagles’ left edge the last time these sides met.
The Tigers rank second in the comp for line-breaks (averaging 5.7 a match) – seven of their squad have made multiple line-breaks just three weeks into the premiership, including centres Blake Ayshford and Chris Lawrence plus fullback Tim Moltzen, five-eighth Benji Marshall, hooker Robbie Farah and prop Aaron Woods. Clearly they will pose a threat all around the park.
Watch Out Wests Tigers: Chris Lawrence may have bagged a try double last week but he’ll have his work cut out repelling the likes of Daly Cherry-Evans, Jamie Lyon and David Williams down the Manly right edge. Lawrence has missed more tackles than any centre so far (10 in three matches). In particular he’ll need to be careful not to fall for a Cherry-Evans dummy – it led to a 70-metre try by the Manly No.7 last time they met.
Adam Blair will get a working over too – the back-rower has missed 13 tackles so far – the most in the league.
Tigers winger Joel Reddy will have to be at his defensive best marking Taufua – the Manly left winger is headed for a banner season if his five tries, five line-breaks (ranking him equal first in each category) and 157 metres a match are any indicator.
Plays To Watch: Anthony Watmough mixing attack with defence – he made 154 metres against the Knights then backed it up with 48 tackles against the Titans; Robbie Farah ducking into dummy-half and demanding fast play-the-balls from teammates – their 31 Fast PTBs were a deciding factor in the win over the Eels last week; Steve Matai (four offloads, most by a centre) creating migraines for Blake Ayshford; Aaron Woods (two tries) and Adam Blair looking to get over the stripe from inside the Manly red zone, like Ryan James did for the Titans last week.
Key Match-Up: Kieran Foran v Benji Marshall. A pair of attacking maestros who will have plenty of say in the contest, particularly creating opportunities close to the opponent’s try line.
Foran has been a little quiet to start 2013; he’s yet to score a try or make a break and has contributed just the one try assist to date – although to be fair that’s mostly because Daly Cherry-Evans has taken control (two try assists, a try, line-break and line-break assist). It’s just a matter of time before his attacking stats even out with his No.7’s.
Benji Marshall is the most dangerous player from both sides and if Manly’s defensive line speed isn’t up to scratch Marshall will cut them to pieces. He led all players for try assists and line-break assists last season (with 35 and 32 respectively) – with just the two try assists and one line-break assist so far, a breakout game surely isn’t too far away. And Benji set up two tries the last time they met.
Where It Will Be Won: While both teams feature plenty of potential match-winners in attack it’s likely the side that muscles up in defence will play from in front – and it’s here the Sea Eagles hold a clear edge. Through three rounds Manly have missed the third-fewest tackles, averaging just 16.3 per game, and have conceded the fewest line-breaks of all teams (just 1.3 per game).
Despite notching two victories the Tigers have offered mediocre resistance to date: they are missing the most tackles in the NRL (30.3 per game – almost double the Sea Eagles’ tally) and have conceded the fifth-most line-breaks (5.3 per week).
The History: Played 17; Sea Eagles 10, Wests Tigers 7. Manly have won six of the past nine – but the Tigers have won three of the past five. It should be a close contest – four of the past five clashes have been decided by four points or less.
Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Gavin Badger; Sideline Officials – Adam Reid & Adam Gee; Video Referees – Chris Ward & Gavin Reynolds.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (AEDT); Fox Sports 1 – Delayed 10pm.
The Way We See It: Based solely on what they’ve shown defensively in 2013 it’s difficult to go past the Sea Eagles. One thing’s for sure: there will be plenty of points scored over the 80 minutes. Manly by eight points. (PS – fans planning to go to the game are urged to allow plenty of travel time given anticipated Easter traffic congestion up the F3 on Thursday afternoon.)
*Statistics: NRL Stats