RAISE your hand if you predicted the reigning premiers would start the year with four straight losses before the start of season 2009. Now put your hand down, you pack of liars!
Unbelievably, Manly are the only side without a win after the first month of football and as such are rooted to the foot of the table.
Thankfully for the Sea Eagles’ fans they get a chance to break the duck at home this weekend with the return of the Brookvale try-scoring machine Brett Stewart in their match against the up-and-down Wests Tigers.
With some off field ructions of their own due to a boardroom battle and some serious defensive flaws, the Wests Tigers are ripe for the picking if the Sea Eagles can finally put their own problems behind them.
They come into the match following a disappointing loss to Penrith where they leaked three late tries to be thumped 42-22.
The result saw them fall to 12th on the ladder, although they still have two wins more than the Sea Eagles.
With Stewart back at fullback, Michael Robertson returns to the wing and David Williams is out of the side. Jamie Lyon is also slated to return from injury, which ushes Shane Neumann out of the team. Prop George Rose has been added to a five-man bench.
The Wests Tigers have named Rhys Hanbury at fullback to take over from the injured Tim Moltzen, with Shannon McDonnell taking Hanbury’s spot on the bench.
Rocky Trimarchi is out of the side with Corey Payne joining the squad.
Watch out Sea Eagles: The Wests Tigers will attack almost exclusively up the middle and to the left side. The Tigers have scored 20 tries this season, 10 on the left side of the field (seven on the left sideline, three on the left edge), nine up the middle and just one on the right side.
The biggest beneficiary has been left winger Taniela Tuiaki who leads the NRL with six tries. They will continue their focus left, considering the Sea Eagles have leaked 10 tries on this side of the field.
Watch out Wests Tigers: Brett Stewart returns to the Sea Eagles outfit with plenty to prove. The Manly custodian scores almost a try a match at Brookvale Oval and would love nothing more than to put some of the off-field dramas behind him with a mammoth performance.
In the regular season last year Stewart averaged 125 metres a match, had 14 line breaks, 10 line-break assists, nine try assists and 19 tries along with 81 tackle breaks. Don’t be surprised if he makes up for lost time with a match-turning display.
Where it will be won: Defence. Both sides have been terrible defensively so far this year and improvement is needed to win this game. Manly are now conceding 24.5 points a match – a huge difference from last season when they were only leaking 13.6 points a game.
The Wests Tigers house the absolute worst defence in the league at this point, leaking 33.5 points a game – more than 10 points worse a match than they conceded last season.
While having a good attack can sometimes negate poor defence, a good defensive team is usually going to come out on top against a good attacking side. The attitude to defence from both sides has been poor. Manly have missed an NRL-high 142 tackles in the first month and the Wests Tigers have missed 104 tackles thus far. Whoever pays some attention to the hard stuff… i.e. tackling, will come away with the competition points.
The History: Played 11; Sea Eagles 7, Wests Tigers 4. Manly have won six of the past eight between the two clubs, including the past four in a row. At Brookvale the ledger is 4-1 to the home side over the Tigers with the only win for the visitors being back in April 2003.
Conclusion: Just about everyone has been waiting for Manly to finally put it together and start winning. Surely this is the weekend that happens. They are once again back at home and have their attacking fullback back in the side, so excuses are now gone. They have had sufficient time to adjust to the two-referee system and their egos are surely back to normal after having been humiliated over the first month.
The Wests Tigers have been dismal defensively and unless they improve in that area they can expect another loss. However, they are dynamic in attack and have scored more points than any other side so they can certainly turn on the points if the Sea Eagles are still in a funk. They will also be buoyed by the knowledge another loss for the Sea Eagles could put a real nail in their premiership defence. Tip Manly here – but if they lose again feel free to run the red felt pen through them for the rest of the year.
Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Steve Chiddy; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.
Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.