“Here we go again, Manly and Parra…” – it’s not for no reason the advertising gurus opted to make a beer commercial around the rivalry between these two clubs in the 1980s. And more than 25 years on, it’s still going strong, fuelled by a ‘Silvertails’ v ‘Battlers’ perception and not a little bitterness at what Parramatta sees as a continual robbing of their junior nursery.
Theft or not, it’s true that five former Eels will line up in maroon and white in this game – Jamie Lyon, Trent Hodkinson, Tony Williams, Ben Farrar and Joe Galuvao (and that doesn’t include injured winger David Williams, either).
But the Sea Eagles have plenty to smart about themselves. No-one in the camp has forgotten the blatant Kris Keating forward pass that saw the Eels snatch a 24-20 win back in Round 2.
Hence, this looms as an explosive Heritage Round “grudge” match.
The Sea Eagles are in a purple patch of form, winning four of their past five and easily accounting for the table-topping Dragons at “Fortress Brookvale” last week – despite a disrupted preparation with eight players on representative duty. They sit in third place on the ladder, their 226 points scored the most by any side.
Meanwhile the Eels continue to grow in confidence, having won their past three against the Bulldogs, Cowboys and Rabbitohs. They sit in sixth place, just two wins away from top spot, and would join the Sea Eagles on competition points with a win here.
Watch out Sea Eagles: The argument that Eels fullback Jarryd Hayne isn’t the strike weapon he proved to be at the end of 2009 just doesn’t wash. Hayne may have just three line-breaks to his name, and just the one try, but his work rate and input elsewhere have been huge.
Hayne’s 168 metres gained a match is the most territory carved out by any player in the NRL – in that total he’s also averaging more than 80 metres on kick returns.
Additionally, he’s responsible for five of the team’s total 17 line-break assists. No question he’s still a huge threat.
Elsewhere, the Sea Eagles need to watch their discipline – they are the worst offenders in the NRL, averaging 7.3 penalties a game. Jason King and Anthony Watmough (10 each) and Glenn Stewart (9) head the rap sheet. From that you can deduce they like to rush out of the line and also slow down the opposition play-the-ball. If they get pinged often here, a brilliant side like the Eels will put points on them in a flash.
Watch out Eels: The Sea Eagles have scored more tries (38) than any other side – while incredibly the Eels’ 23 tries are the second fewest scored, with only the lowly Sharks crossing the stripe less frequently.
The Eels need to be wary of attacking kicks – the Sea Eagles have scored 12 tries from kicks (second in the NRL), while the Eels’ nine tries conceded from kicks is equal second worst in the comp.
The Eels have built a reputation as the game’s entertainers, with expansive plays off the back of flashy second-phase football. Last season everything they attempted stuck – this year they haven’t been anywhere near as effective.
They’re still making a bunch of offloads – their 17.3 a game is the most by any team and three more a game than the second-most prolific Warriors. But errors are cruelling them – they’ve made a whopping 111 blunders, with Hayne (17) and Daniel Mortimer (13) the main offenders.
From those stats it’s obvious they’re trying to make things happen, but aren’t executing. They can’t afford to bumble through this contest.
Where it will be won: In the first half. The Sea Eagles have led at halftime in every game this year, scoring almost three-quarters of their tries in the first 40 minutes with a huge 110-points differential. And they have scored more first-half points than any other side.
That’s not good news for the Eels, who have conceded the majority of their tries in the first half and have led at the break just one of eight occasions (plus a tie). Also, they have scored the equal fewest points in first halves (just 38).
Then again, the game could hang on the second half – as was the case back in Round 2 when the Eels stormed home from 20-0 down to win 24-20. The flipside stats show the Sea Eagles concede 70 per cent of tries in the second half – while the Eels have scored 70 per cent of their four-pointers after oranges.
Confusing? You bet.
Also, these sides are the only teams in the comp who have yet to score from dummy-half. Either that means each side has an excellent goal-line defence, or else neither side puts much value on attempting to score from close range.
It could be a shock tactic that pays dividends for one of the combatants.
The history: Played 123; Sea Eagles 76, Eels 43, drawn 4. The Sea Eagles have won six of the past eight, although the Eels won at Parramatta Stadium the last time they met in Round 2.
The home side have won 38 of the 55 clashes at Brookvale Oval.
Conclusion: This is the last chance for Origin candidates to impress before the side for Game One is announced – and even then the players will have just 40 minutes to showcase their wares, with the Blues’ side announced at halftime.
While Jamie Lyon and Jarryd Hayne are certainties, expect the likes of Anthony Watmough, Glenn Stewart, Josh Perry and even Michael Robertson to play flash from the start. Even Nathan Hindmarsh – the forgotten man in representative discussions – could prove pivotal to the outcome.
The home side is used to it, but the Eels will need to be cautious on a dewy Brookvale Oval surface that played havoc with the tired Dragons last week. But fresh from the bye it shouldn’t affect them too much – although it could add to their drop-ball woes, which they can’t afford.
Expect the game to be a high-scoring affair – Manly haven’t scored fewer than 18 points against the Eels in their past eight games and the average points tally is 43.
Logic and stats point to a home-side win.
Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Steve Chiddy; Video Ref – Steve Clark.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.