Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford
The rivalry between these two great clubs resumes on the Central Coast as the fuming Sea Eagles face the gutsy Knights.
Since inception, the Knights have looked forward to playing the Sea Eagles – even though they lost on almost every occasion until the 1997 grand final.
‘Chief v Spud’ ensured the two teams would rip in and tear from the opening whistle, and while Paul Harragon and Mark Carroll are long retired, the venom between the sides’ remains – and don’t we love it!
Manly are still incensed after surrendering their 20-0 lead against the Eels and the Parramatta Stadium dressing room door might not be the only inanimate object assaulted this week.
But they have turned their anger towards the Knights, who now stand in the way of their first victory of the year.
As one of just four teams without a win, the Sea Eagles are in dangerous territory, as another loss would have them replicate last year’s 0-3 beginning – a tough place from which to recover. Manly were, however, able to be just the fifth side in the past 12 years to make the finals after such a poor start but you can be sure they do not want to be under the same pressure again.
Ben Farrar has been named at fullback, with Michael Robertson on the wing, while big George Rose returns from suspension on the bench.
The Knights come into the contest after a tough loss to Melbourne, which dropped them to 10th. In the thick of things until the final stages against the reigning premiers, Newcastle has shown great determination in the opening rounds to be 1-1, despite a shocking off-season and some early injuries.
Ben Cross is out of this match, with Mark Taufua shifting from lock to prop, Zeb Taia coming in at lock and Cameron Ciraldo returning from his horrific broken leg of last season on the bench.
Watch out Sea Eagles: He has been on the radar for a few years now but Fijian monster winger Akuila Uate looks like he will finally be proving the hype correct in 2010.
The 21-year-old 185cm, 96-kilogram speedster has three line-breaks and two tries already this year and he is averaging 104 metres a game. The Knights have already shown their hand in attack, favouring his side, although Uate still needs work on his defence.
Both the Bulldogs and the Storm attacked the Knights wingers for some success, with three tries apiece being conceded on each sideline.
Watch out Knights: The Trent Hodkinson – Kieran Foran combination in the halves will be better for the run against the Eels. Both had impressive pre-seasons and looked set to start the year, only for Des Hasler to go with Jamie Lyon at five-eighth in the opening round.
But last weekend he pulled Hodkinson in as a late replacement – and it looked a masterstroke as the side started so brilliantly. The Parramatta junior tormented his former club and showed he has the skills for first grade with a try, line-break, line-break assist and try assist.
With another week of training under their belts the two inexperienced playmakers will be better prepared and know they need to orchestrate victory if they want to cement a place in the NRL.
Where it will be won: Stamina. In Rounds 1 and 2, both the Knights and Sea Eagles led their matches early, only to let the oppositions back into the contest.
Newcastle led 16-0 against the Bulldogs at halftime and only just managed to hold on for a 20-16 victory when Jamal Idris butchered a golden chance to win the contest for Canterbury. They led Melbourne 14-0 only to concede 20 unanswered points, finally falling behind in the final 10 minutes of the match.
Manly led the Wests Tigers 20-4 with just over 20 minutes left in Round 1 and were beaten 26-22 before the Eels debacle of last weekend which saw a 20-0 halftime lead dissipate.
Whichever side does what it takes to go the distance will emerge the victor.
Fitness should not be a factor for professional NRL teams, with the real issue being mental toughness. Both sides have been guilty of switching off when they felt comfortable – something teams cannot do at this level of football.
However, standing in the way of this, the Sea Eagles have won all three of the matches at this venue between the two teams.
Conclusion: You have to admire the Knights’ resolve and their gutsy performances, while the Sea Eagles’ lapses in matches have been unacceptable when you look at their roster.
But Manly might just be a little more desperate in this match. The Sea Eagles have shown they are able to get the job done in patches and if they can extend that form throughout the match they should be too strong.
However, the Knights never give up a game easily and if they can get away to another fast start they could have the Sea Eagles panicking.
In Newcastle the Knights would be a big shot, but in Gosford the scale tips back towards Manly.
Match officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Adam Reid; Video Ref – Russell Smith.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.