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Sea Eagles v Wests Tigers
Bluetongue Stadium
Sunday 3pm

Is your weekend looking a little dull? No major plans? Well, if you live anywhere near the central coast of New South Wales, the remedy is here.

With this major blockbuster, semi-final-football-come-early match-up between the Wests Tigers and Manly Warringah in Gosford, the perfect mini-break opportunity presents.

Whether you make it a family getaway with the kids, a romantic trip with your significant other or a wild weekend away with mates, this cracking match will put a great finish on your travels.

Both sides come in off the back of wins and both currently reside in the top six. As jostling for finals spots becomes more heated, these matches become more intense and this will be no exception.

Manly rumbled back into form by annihilating the Sharks last weekend, lifting them to sixth on the ladder and giving them renewed confidence for an assault on the top four.

A win in this fixture could potentially lift them to fourth but in a show of how close this competition is, a loss could have them drop back to ninth, out of the finals zone altogether.
They still need three wins from the last seven to have a chance at finals football and the sooner they notch those wins the better.

Des Hasler has selected the same side from the Cronulla caning, although he has added Matt Cross as an 18th man.

The Wests Tigers started very sluggishly last Monday night against the Cowboys but rallied strongly to win and cement third spot. A win here could potentially have them in the top two while a loss could push them down to fifth.

For the third week running, coach Tim Sheens has named Robert Lui at halfback despite the youngster failing to make the field from his injury concerns in the past fortnight.

Expecting he’ll play, Benji Marshall would return to five-eighth, Chris Lawrence would shift to centre and Geoff Daniela misses out. Gareth Ellis hasn’t been named but could still factor in this match.

The Tigers have plenty to play for, as a win would all but guarantee their first finals berth since 2005.

Watch out Sea Eagles:
Regardless of whether he plays five-eighth or centre, Chris Lawrence has found some extra confidence in recent weeks and is a real threat to Manly and their attempted finals surge.
He has scored 10 tries this year and has as many line-breaks but he has also added six line-break assists. Close to the line he is very hard to stop, as the combination of speed, size and agility can see him slide between defenders with ease. But if you send an extra man to defend him, he is equally able to pop the ball to the unmarked man.

The Sea Eagles need to do a little extra homework on Lawrence to reduce his involvement.

Watch out Wests Tigers:
The Sea Eagles are the second best side in the NRL at scoring tries from kicks; considering the Tigers are the fourth worst at conceding tries from the boot, you can be sure the Manly boys will be hoisting the ball high and squeezing the ball through low at the ends of their sets with pre-meditated urgency.

The Tigers need to provide more commitment around the scraps and also better anticipate the kick when it is likely to come.
Where it will be won:
The shifts to the left sideline are going to be crucial in this clash, with both sides having great success shifting the ball wide from right to left this year.

The Wests Tigers have scored more tries on the left sideline than any other side with 16 for the year, but the Manly side is next with 15 tries. With Lote Tuqiri just waiting for action on the left side at the Tigers and Steve Matai blazing a trail on the left for the Sea Eagles, both sides have international-level players lurking.

Having both conceded nine tries in the same area, the teams are very evenly matched and the side that can continue to go to their strength and come up trumps is likely to get the chocolates. Obviously these shifts can’t happen without good field position, so the two packs are going to need to get some grunt going early.

The Tigers are averaging slightly more metres a game across the ground but the Sea Eagles’ pack has been sting by recent criticism and is on a mission.

The history:
Played 14; Sea Eagles 8, Wests Tigers 6. The Wests Tigers have won the past two matches against Manly – one of which was the riveting 26-22 comeback win in Round 1 this season – but the Sea Eagles had won five straight against the Tigers prior.

The two teams have never met on the Central Coast.

Conclusion: This is a tough result to call. The Sea Eagles had been a bit indifferent before blowing away Cronulla – but it was, after all, Cronulla. So the jury is still out on whether they can back it up against a big gun.

The Wests Tigers have been a little scratchy lately but are still winning… making them a side worthy of praise. The fact the finals are so close should drive them to greater heights, especially after some near misses in recent seasons.

If it was at Brookvale, you’d pick Manly but on the central coast it is anyone’s game.

Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Steve Carrall; Video Ref – Steve Clark.

Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.
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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