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Roosters v Sea Eagles
Sydney Football Stadium
Saturday 5.30pm

Twelve months ago this would have been the game of the round – two teams who had cemented their spots in the top four battling a month out from the finals? The tickets would have sold themselves.

And while it won’t have quite the same atmosphere or build-up, this clash will prove to be extremely important for both the Roosters and the Sea Eagles as they play for pride and a finals berth respectively.

After suffering back-to-back losses in games they would previously have pencilled in as victories, Manly are back in a precarious position once again this year.

Clinging to eighth spot solely on for-and-against, the Sea Eagles are in a situation where one more slip-up to a lower-ranked team like the Roosters could prematurely end their title defence.

Meanwhile the Roosters still have plenty to play for – the battle for the wooden spoon is back on, and with the Sharks’ form tapering off the Roosters have a very real chance of offloading the unwanted prize with just one more victory this year.

Nobody in Bondi wants to send club legends Brad Fittler and Craig Fitzgibbon off with a wooden spoon in their kit bag and you can be sure they will put everything into the last five rounds of footy.

Manly have made some significant changes to the team that was embarrassed by South Sydney last round – gone is the calamitous Tony Williams, replaced in a reshuffle by boom youngster Kieran Foran. The 19-year-old will step into the five-eighth role, allowing Jamie Lyon to revert back to the centres and pushing the versatile Ben Farrar onto the wing.

Out-of-form back-rower Glenn Hall has been brushed to an extended bench, with Chris Bailey starting in the second row in his place.

The Roosters, on the other hand, have stayed solid with the team that tried valiantly against the Wests Tigers – including leaving Anthony Minichiello in the halves.

Although unfamiliar to the role, ‘Mini’ had an excellent game alongside Mitchell Pearce and will be better for the run.

Watch out Manly: Manly have clawed their way back into finals contention through disciplined footy, but in recent weeks they’ve slipped away from that formula and have started giving away stupid penalties again.

Against the Tigers they lost the first-half penalty count and it resulted in an 18-0 half-time deficit which they couldn’t recover from.

After a bright start against South Sydney at home the penalties came out again (Anthony Watmough the worst offender with three in the one game) and the Sea Eagles collapsed. Manly are one of the competition’s worst offenders when it comes to conceding points after a penalty and you can be sure the Roosters will make them pay.

The Roosters will look to attack down the left-hand side of the field, hoping to expose Manly’s weak right-side defence. A total of 38 of the Roosters’ 60 tries have come on the left-hand side of the field, with the likes of Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Setaimata Sa causing plenty of problems – but Manly have more to worry about given their own right side has leaked seven more tries than their left in 2009, something Brad Fittler is sure to target.

Also worrying is the recent form of right-side winger David Williams and the out-of-sorts Steve Matai (who has missed six tackles since he returned from suspension a fortnight ago).

Watch out Roosters: Call him the ‘Army of One’, the ‘Human Wrecking Ball’ or the ‘DNA Freak’ – but whatever you do don’t get him angry. Anthony Watmough has been in simply irresistible form since Origin II – averaging 160 metres a game while punishing sides with his work ethic and bruising defence.

No other player in the competition has Watmough’s ability to eat up metres in the middle for 60 minutes like a forward and then find a sudden burst of energy to bust the line and out-sprint a fullback to score a try.

Earlier this year Manly were described as a one-man band because they couldn’t win without Stewart – but Hasler has found a back-up singer for his band, and his name is simply ‘Choc’.

Stop him, and the Roosters are a strong chance of winning. If he fires, they can go home at half-time.

Where it will be won: In the mind. Neither team will put a poor team on the park, but the reality is that there are two underperforming sides taking the field this weekend.

Both teams have every reason under the sun to win this game of footy – and both have slipped in and out of form over the past month – but quite simply the winner of this match will be the one who comes prepared with a better attitude.

Commitment to defence… dedication to dive on the loose ball: whichever team shows the right attitude will finish in front on the scoreboard.

The history: Manly have an outstanding record over the Roosters, winning 74 of the 114 games between the two, including seven of the past eight clashes.

Conclusion: Back Manly, but only because their season is on the line. The Roosters have plenty to play for as well so don’t underestimate them. But if Manly can’t fire a shot this weekend then they simply don’t deserve to play finals football. It’s that simple.

And that message from Des Hasler should be enough to inspire them to a victory this weekend.

Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell, Bernard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Adam Reid; Video Ref – Chris Ward.

Televised: Fox Sports live – 5.30pm AEST.   

* Statistics: NRL Stats
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