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Sea Eagles v Raiders
Brookvale Oval
Saturday 5.30pm

Whether by design or not, the Sea Eagles have nestled themselves somewhat back under the radar.

It’s a place Manly coach Des Hasler loves to be and the fact everyone is focussed on the Dragons and Panthers at the top of the table would be giving him great satisfaction.

But, the form of his side over the past few weeks wouldn’t be bringing too many smiles and Hasler knows timing is crucial when planning your assault on a title.

A last-start 40-22 loss to the Panthers before the bye ended up being a little embarrassing for their defence and has left them in sixth spot on the ladder.

The logjam in the middle of the table means a loss to the Raiders, who will be desperate, could see them drop out of the finals zone altogether.

With Jason King and Anthony Watmough playing for New South Wales the side won’t be finalised until just before kick-off but Jamie Lyon is due back from injury in the centres.

This pushes Dean Whare out of the side. Matt Cross has been added as an 18th man, presumably as cover for the two Blues boys.

Down in 13th after losing to the Roosters last weekend the Canberra Green Machine are now faced with the prospect of winning seven of their last nine games to be contenders, making this match vital.

They have ditched the Adam-Mogg-at-halfback plan, bringing in Josh McCrone to play in no.7 with Mogg heading back to the bench.

Just like the Sea Eagles, the Canberra side is sweating on Origin players, with David Shillington and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs hopeful of backing up. If they take their places, Troy Thompson and Joe Picker will start from the bench.

Hooker Glenn Buttriss is hurt, giving Travis Waddell the chance to start at dummy-half while Danny Galea has been left out of the side.

Watch out Sea Eagles: The Raiders’ attack will flow predominantly from second-phase football as they look to their strengths to survive this season.

With 216 offloads this season, or 14.4 a game, the Raiders rank third in the NRL. With their season at critical mass they will no doubt look to go down swinging, so some hot-potato football might pop up.

The Sea Eagles have only produced 142 offloads this year to rank the least effective in the competition. They have also conceded a whopping 182 offloads, or more than 12 a match, so they aren’t known for  shutting the footy down.

Bronson Harrison is the man on the right edge for the Raiders. With 39 offloads for the year he is on fire. Dane Tilse has 24 and Terry Campese 20. Perhaps the Sea Eagles can learn from Todd Carney last week and anticipate the ball out the back?

Watch out Raiders: The Sea Eagles are a side that usually just focuses on their own game and structure and is left hoping they just do what they do better than the opposition.

But, having seen the defensive breakdown of the Raiders, Hasler might just ask his boys to loosen up the shackles a little. The Raiders have conceded 26 tries from 21 or more metres out, equal worst in the competition, and in their case it equates to 45 per cent of all tries conceded.

This means the opposition doesn’t even need good field position to punish the Raiders, as the Green Machine malfunctions from all over the park.

With Jamie Lyon back, the Sea Eagles might look to attack from further out than usual. Currently they have scored just 10 tries this season from over 20 metres, or just 18 per cent of their tries, but as they try to warm up for the big end-of-year games, they will need to add further dimensions to their attack. When better to start than against a brittle Raiders side?

Where it will be won: Steve Matai v Joel Thompson. Okay, so it might seem a bit far-fetched to rest an entire game on a battle in the centres, but if ever a one-on-one centre battle was vital, this is it.
The Raiders are basically listless in attack, except for their right side where Harrison and Thompson have combined brilliantly all year. With 16 line-breaks and 10 tries, Thompson has been by far the Raiders’ MVP this year. He comes up against Matai, who hits hard, is physical, but also misses crucial tackles and misreads at times.

If the Kiwi can shut Thompson down, the Sea Eagles are on their way to winning. On the flip side, the Raiders are poor defensively in the same area. Thompson, a former forward, is still learning the defensive structures and decisions of centre play. Matai can take the game by the scruff of the neck if he can give his opposite a lesson in running lines.

The winner of this battle will almost certainly be on the winning team.

The history:
Played 41; Sea Eagles 24, Raiders 16, drawn 1. The Sea Eagles have won seven of the past eight games including four on the trot. The home-ground advantage hasn’t been a massive factor in the past, with the Sea Eagles holding just a 12-8 advantage at Brookvale.

Conclusion: The Sea Eagles were pretty average last time out against Penrith – but the Panthers are equal with the Dragons at the top of the table, so we can’t be too critical.

The Raiders are not a finals side when all is said and done and tipping them to win at Brookvale would be mighty mighty brave. Stick with the home side.

Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Ricky McFarlane; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.
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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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