Roosters v Sea Eagles preview

Roosters v Sea Eagles
Sydney Football Stadium
Sunday 3pm

It’s a long way from panic stations for the Sea Eagles but even their most ardent fan would be conscious the side can’t afford to give the rest of the competition too much leeway with consecutive losses to start 2011.

They meet a Roosters side still smarting from a Brian Smith tongue-lashing following their near-loss to the Rabbitohs last Friday night. Having led 28-6, the chooks actually trailed with seven minutes remaining before pulling the game out of the fire. Coach Smith was ropable about the lack of discipline from key individuals that led to a 6-0 penalty count against them in the second stanza. With Smith having threatened to sack the culprits (think Jake Friend, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves) and at the very least placed them on final notice, Des Hasler’s visitors are unlikely to be gifted many bonus possessions here.

The Roosters have retained their 17 from last week, although Friend may start at hooker after Brian Smith opted to give NRL returnee Mark Riddell some early game time against the Bunnies.

The big surprise could be the return of Todd Carney, who has been named in jersey No.18. If he takes the field it will be his 100th NRL game.

Meanwhile the Sea Eagles played OK against the Storm but were simply out-enthused by a home side desperate to prove a point after the disappointment of their salary cap scandal-tarnished 2010.

Injury and suspension have hit deep, with co-captains Jamie Lyon (hamstring strain) and Jason King (suspension for knee lift) missing. Lock Glenn Stewart has been handed sole captaincy duties, a deserving reward for a solid clubman.

On the plus side, David Williams returns on the wing, pushing Will Hopoate in to centre to cover for Lyon. George Rose starts at prop for King. Terence Seuseu, Jamie Buhrer, Tim Robinson and Vic Mauro comprise their bench.

While the Roosters’ history against the Sea Eagles isn’t flash (see below), they get the opportunity to chalk up their fifth consecutive win at the SFS for only the second time since 2004.

Watch out Roosters: Anthony Watmough sent a clear message he wants to return to the Origin arena with a standout effort against the Storm. He made a game-high 16 runs for 155 metres, game-high eight tackle-breaks and tallied 27 tackles. If he can keep the errors out of his game (two, plus a penalty conceded) Manly will be able to get some serious field position.

Danger Sign: The Sea Eagles completed just 20 of 36 sets for a sub-standard 56 per cent completion rate last week. They will have more respect for the pill in this game.

Watch Out Sea Eagles: Having notched three try assists already, Roosters No.7 Mitchell Pearce has signalled his intention to become the dominant playmaker in the NRL in 2011. He hit the ground running last week, setting up skipper Braith Anasta and Sam Perrett with well-directed high kicks into the in-goal and winger Joseph Leilua with a lovely floating cut-out pass.

Pearce had a game-high 48 receives, more than hooker Jake Friend (43) – which highlights the increased responsibility coach Smith will heap on him this season. Also, he added three tackle-breaks, a game-high three offloads and, importantly, was error-free. He’ll be out to show opposite No.7 Daly Cherry-Evans who’s boss.

Danger Sign: If the Sea Eagles’ defence doesn’t compress and Pearce is allowed time and space to link with his devastating outside runners, points will flow.

Plays To Watch: Brett Stewart chiming in and floating cut-out passes for his wingers, or picking up inside balls out wide within the opposition 10 metres; Pearce kicking wide for his wingmen; Pearce taking on the line and popping balls to charging supports up the guts; Sam Perrett setting the Sea Eagles back on their heels early with his trademark dummy-half darts (the Roosters made 24 in the first half last week, equalling their number of hard hit-ups); Watmough seeking a way through the centre of the Roosters’ ruck, David Williams looking to get confidence from the get-go with some fearless return runs.

Where It Will Be Won: The all-round game of both packs of forwards. Last week the Roosters managed more territory (1157 metres) than the Rabbitohs (1074 metres) despite the fact only one of their forwards (Mose Masoe, 129 metres in 32 minutes) cracked the century. But they made up for it with some brilliant playmaking, with interchange Tom Symonds bagging two tries and second-rower Frank-Paul Nuuausala crashing over too.

The Roosters’ completions weren’t flash – just 70 per cent – and they’ll be looking to improve here.

Meanwhile the Sea Eagles managed to stay in the contest against the Storm despite a shocking completion rate and being limited to just 1081 metres all night – the third-fewest metres from a team all weekend.

Whichever side’s forwards can lay the platform, the backs will do the rest.

The History: Played 116; Sea Eagles 75, Roosters 39, drawn 2. Manly show a strong hand in recent encounters, winning six of the past eight, although the Roosters won 30-14 last time out at the SFS. Still, the venue holds no qualms for the visitors, who hold a solid 10-6 advantage at Moore Park.

Conclusion: Brett Stewart has been out a long time but the Sea Eagles need more from him than the tentative eight runs and 45 metres he registered last week. At his best he is international calibre but last week, his try assist aside, he showed it may take a while for him to warm to his running game again. The Sea Eagles can’t afford a long wait.

That said, Stewart isn’t much of a ‘night owl’ and is at his most alert during daytime games – with 45 tries in 50 games not played under lights he currently holds the most prolific tryscorer rate by a player in more than 50 years.

The Roosters know they have an opportunity to set the Manly cause back a heap by inflicting a second consecutive loss. Even this early they look a more measured and cohesive outfit, so they start deserving favourites.

But passion is a wonderful motivator. Des Hasler and his charges have plenty of it. The captaincy may spur Glenn Stewart on to great things here; if that’s the case his team-mates will lift too.

We’ll opt for the home side in a nail-biter. Roosters by two points.

Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & David Abood; Video Ref – Russell Smith.

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

* Statistics: NRL Stats.