THE two beach suburbs meet, both with plenty to play for. Home side, Cronulla are desperate to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon, while Manly will be anxious about securing a top-eight birth.
Until last week it seemed the Sea Eagles were cruising, and were even capable of a top-four finish, but after being whacked by the Dragons last week, they’re now fighting to get back into the play-off mix.
The Sharks sit just a win ahead of the last-placed Roosters, and after their fractured season, they will be looking for any chance to make their loyal fans smile.
The final make-up of the two sides probably won’t be known until kick-off because of State of Origin representation. Manly in particular will be crossing their fingers that forward leaders Josh Perry, Anthony Watmough and Glenn Stewart are able to back up to take on the Sharks.
Although they won’t be playing in this match, the Sharks should be somewhat buoyed by the recent signings the club has secured for next year.
Recruiting the likes of John Morris, Dean Collis, Paul Aiton, Brod Wright, Albert Kelly and Manly’s Adam Cuthbertson represents a bright future for Cronulla, and you’d expect their spirits to be raised after some positive press in recent weeks.
Cronulla will be tough to beat on a cold winter’s night in The Shire, but if Manly is the real deal, as most expect they are, they should win this match.
Watch out Sharks: Although he’ll be one of the stars backing from Origin, Anthony Watmough will be coming to get Cronulla.
‘Choc’ is one of the game’s best enforcers and his aggression was sorely missed at WIN Stadium last week. Watmough is absolutely destroying the rest of the competition’s forwards in tackle breaks – he has 90. This is a result of his bustling style where he’s never tackled until he’s literally biting the dust.
The NSW second-rower has also made nine line breaks this year; watch for him running off Matt Ballin and Matt Orford. The best thing about Watmough, and the one thing the Sharks can’t defend against no matter how they try, is Watmough’s tireless work rate. He’ll run the ball upwards of 25 times a game and when he’s putting in effort after effort, he’s bound to break the game open.
Watch out Sea Eagles: While their position on the table might not yet reflect it, the Sharks are a different team to the one that bumbled to nine successive losses earlier this year. They are a young and keen side, and now have some confidence to throw the football around.
Manly need to be wary of players such as Nathan Stapleton at fullback, Matt Wright in the centres and Blake Ferguson on the wing. All are capable of sniffing out open space and a try.
Stapleton averages nine runs a match, most of these looking for an inside short-ball off either Trent Barrett or new half Scott Porter. Stapleton is always scheming and if he’s not watched he’ll find an opening. He’s managed seven line breaks from just six appearances – up there with the most for the league’s fullbacks.
Where it will be won: Des Hasler doesn’t let his side slip in back-to-back weeks too often, and he’ll have Manly switched on after their collapse against St George Illawarra.
It’s evident that Manly do need to do some work in defence, particularly with the outside backs. Cowboys recruit Ben Farrar last week had two missed tackles and two ineffective tackles, while fullback Michael Robertson and halfback Matt Orford were others to fall off at crucial times.
If the Sea Eagles fail in this area again, watch for Cronulla to exploit. Look for the Sea Eagles to muscle up their ‘D’ as they attempt to claw their way back.
The Sea Eagles’ forward unit is absolutely jam-packed with representative talent and if these players fire the Sharks will find it difficult to compete.
However, none of the Manly props are averaging more than 99 metres a game, although Watmough takes a lot of the heat off them with his average of 130 metres per game.
Even though Manly should hold a match-winning advantage in the forwards, Cronulla do have some toilers in their engine room as well; most notably Anthony Tupou and Luke Douglas.
Prop Douglas has made a remarkable 645 tackles this season; admittedly he shares his time between front row and second row, but even so, he’s made tackles than any other prop this season. Meanwhile former rep star Tupou has managed 541 tackles and has shown he can also be handy with the ball. This match will be won in the forwards.
The history: Played 74; Sharks 22, Sea Eagles 50, drawn 2. Manly holds a strong advantage over their southern Sydney rivals. It’s a closer contest at Toyota Stadium however, with Manly holding a 15-14 advantage.
Conclusion: Expect the Sharks to put up a fair fight in this match. They welcome back Trent Barrett from Origin, and the experienced five-eighth should take plenty of heat off youngster Scott Porter in the no.7.
Cronulla are no longer playing frigid, boring football and they will throw the ball around and challenge the defending premiers as best they can. However, with the power and consistency of Watmough, Stewart, Perry and King in the forwards, expect Manly to win by 10+.
Match officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Mohamad Fajajo; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.