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Sea Eagles v Dragons
Brookvale Oval
Saturday 7.30pm

Forget the fact 13 players will be trying to back up from representative football the night before – this first match of the NRL mini-round promises to be an absolute cracker regardless, as we find out which side has the mental toughness to overcome the obvious hurdles.

St George Illawarra travel to Brookvale as clear leaders of the competition but the Sea Eagles are currently in third place and if not for some worrying late collapses would be much higher.

The home side Sea Eagles’ preparations have been severely hampered this week with no less than eight of their stars lining up for Australia, New Zealand, City or Country.

Coach Des Hasler has named the same side that disposed of South Sydney last weekend – but who knows how many of the rep players will make it onto the pitch?

Five of their seven starting backs are in action on Friday night. Michael Robertson and Trent Hodkinson are in the Port Macquarie clash, while Jamie Lyon, Steve Matai and Kieran Foran are in Melbourne for the Test Match. Add to that forwards Josh Perry, Anthony Watmough (both Test duty) and Glenn Stewart (Country) and you can see how difficult training would be for Manly in the lead up to this blockbuster.

Nevertheless, they are aware of the importance of getting a result, as a loss could see them slip out of the top four.

The Dragons have issues of their own, although not as dire. Beau Scott is out injured, but the returning Matt Prior will take his spot in the centres.

Young Kyle Stanley and the solid Michael Lett have been named on an extended bench, presumably as cover for the Dragons’ rep players.

Wingers Brett Morris and Jason Nightingale are on Test duty, as is prop Michael Weyman, while back-rowers Ben Creagh and Dean Young will suit up for Country.

Watch out Sea Eagles:
It’s pretty obvious by now that the Dragons’ attack likes to focus on the left side of the field, so the Manly boys need to be prepared for a serious assault.

So far this season the St George Illawarra side has scored 21 tries on the left side compared to just six tries on the right.

Despite ruling himself out of Country selection Matt Cooper has been named and chances are Brett Morris should get through the Test match, giving the Sea Eagles’ right side defence a real handful to worry about.

Cooper is at six line-breaks and five tries, while Morris is at nine line-breaks and 11 tries.

If you add the linking Darius Boyd into the mix with his four line-breaks, seven line-break assists and nine try assists, you get a lethal left side.

Watch out Dragons:
The Sea Eagles lead the league in tries scored up the middle and as such the Red V needs to muscle up around the rucks.

Manly has crossed the line 13 times up the guts, showing a real insistence on working teams over through the middle of the park. With Michael Weyman (likely backing up) and the likes of Jon Green potential targets who move slower laterally, the Sea Eagles might get some more results here.

Where it will be won:
Discipline with the ball and the officials. The only way to compete with the Dragons is push them at their own game. This means minimising errors, completing sets and being squeaky clean with officials to avoid giving up cheap field position.

Then you just need to take advantage of your chances and you are in with a shot.

Unfortunately for Manly fans, their side is struggling compared to the Dragons in some of these crucial stats.

The Sea Eagles have conceded more penalties than any other side, with 60 for the year thus far, while the Dragons are ranked fourth, having conceded just 42 penalties. This equates to more than two penalties more a match.

When it comes to errors, the Sea Eagles have made 92 for the season, the Dragons just 75, once again more than two errors a match difference.

It might not sound like much but one error can easily be the deciding factor in a match and one penalty IS the deciding factor in many matches these days.

On the plus side for Manly, the Sea Eagles are the best team in the league at converting line-breaks into tries, so should they get a chance, they are likely to make the most of it… or are they… the Dragons are the best in the game at stopping line-breaks turning into tries! What a game in store…

The history:
Played 14; Sea Eagles 4, Dragons 10. The Dragons have the wood on Manly and have won six of the past eight clashes between the clubs, including a 48-18 hammering in a similar rep footy-tainted encounter last season.

At Brookvale the Dragons lead 4-3, although the last time the two teams met at the venue the Sea Eagles knocked the Dragons out of the 2008 finals with a 38-6 win.

Conclusion: It’s always hard to judge these games without knowing just who is going to back up but chances are Manly are going to be more heavily handicapped.

The Dragons have no problems going to Brookvale Oval and they are in great form, so the lean is with them.

Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Gavin Badger; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Jeff Younis; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.
Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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