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Manly Sea Eagles v Canberra Raiders
Brookvale Oval
Monday 7pm

Let’s hope the sound system at Brookvale Oval is nice and fresh and the ‘Eagle Rock’ sound bite or tape is ready to play; chances are it’s about to get a serious workout.

This might sound a little disrespectful Raiders fans, but the fact is Canberra has been a mockery since opening the season with a wonderful win over Cronulla. Seven straight losses have followed… the last of which saw the Wests Tigers prevail 49-12… in Canberra!

For a side that was tipped by most to not only be top-eight certainties but also put major pressure on the title, it has been a calamity.

We here at said they couldn’t make the finals if they lost last week and we stand by it – they now need to win at least 11 of their final16 matches – a feat that seems as likely as David Furner running for Prime Minister.

To make their task harder they have lost representative prop David Shillington to injury and have to cross their fingers that Josh Dugan, Joel Thompson, Bronson Harrison and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs all get through Friday night rep games unscathed to take their place against the Sea Eagles.

Personnel-wise, with Shillington gone Brett White will to start at prop. Other changes from last week’s hammering include winger Daniel Vidot omitted, replaced by Reece Robinson. Alan Tongue will start at hooker, forcing Glen Buttriss to the bench. Danny Galea gets a starting spot in the second row, pushing Trevor Thurling to the bench and Shaun Fensom is slated to start at lock with Josh Miller reverting to the pine. Sam Mataora has been added as an extra man on the reserves list.

Despite Canberra’s woeful form, it is a danger game for Manly. Incredibly, stats show the Raiders have won on the past five occasions they’ve conceded 40 points or more the previous game!

The Sea Eagles have been going about their business comfortably. Despite a controversial loss to the Cowboys last week they are well positioned in fifth spot with a 5-3 record.

They have three players involved in rep football Friday night – Will Hopoate, Kieran Foran and Glenn Stewart will be hoping to back up just a few nights later.

Once again they are hoping for the return of Brett Stewart to the side, which would push Hopoate to the wing, with the dependable Michael Oldfield on the bench. David Williams and Tim Robinson have also been added to the reserves list, which numbers seven at this early stage.

They can’t afford to be complacent – the Raiders still have the talent, if not the confidence.

Watch Out Sea Eagles: If ever there is a week for Matt Orford to get out of his form funk and return to the glory days it is this one against his former club!

There are potentially 11 Manly players from the last game Orford played with the Sea Eagles still wearing maroon and white, giving him plenty of former mates to get bragging rights over. With his back problems supposedly gone the former Dally M Medal winner will not get a better excuse to perform better. He has just three try assists and two line-break assists – simply not good enough for a highly paid half. The good news though, is you don’t forget how to play well. With a little bit of luck and the right circumstances, he could help lift the Raiders out of the doldrums.

Danger Sign: Orford was at his scheming best when he was prepared to take on the line. Currently he is averaging just 34 metres running a match but this week he might just get his bum in gear and run at his former buddies. If he does he might just inspire something.

Watch Out Raiders: The Manly wingers and centres have combined for more tries than any other team with 20 so far this season. If you take a close look at the Manly ‘try map’ you find they are all about going wide and to the edges. They have scored 31 tries so far this season and just two of those have been up the middle of the park.

They have 18 tries on the left side of the field, nine on the sideline, nine on the fringes plus 11 on the right side of the field, five on the sideline and six on the fringes. But here is the kicker – Brett Stewart is one of the best in the game at supporting and scoring through the middle of the ruck, so when he actually gets back on the park they’ll have an even better balance of attack.

Danger Sign: The Sea Eagles won’t be afraid to shift wide early. Keep an eye on Foran if he backs up… as a running pivot he draws a lot of defence in and opens up space wide.

Plays To Watch: Kicks for Josh Dugan; Bronson Harrison and Joel Thompson on the right edge looking for offloads; Kieran Foran having a crack on his own, Will Hopoate roaming to find a place in a backline move; dumped Kiwi Steve Matai proving a point following his Test snub.

Where It Will Be Won: Field position. When teams struggle, a return to basics is what’s required. That means holding onto the ball, getting into good field position and giving your side more chances to attack. On the other side of the coin, teams need to limit the good position of opponents so they have fewer chances to attack.

The stats so far this season paint a poor picture for the Raiders in this regard.

They are averaging just 1152 running metres a game – by far the fewest in the NRL. Consider the fact Manly averages 1344 metres each week and already you can see a massive difference. The Raiders are also the third worst when it comes to average metres from kicks, with just 505 metres a match – the Sea Eagles are at 594 metres. Therefore it is reasonable to assume the Sea Eagles will spend more time attacking the Raiders’ line than the other way around. This is a real problem for the Raiders as they have leaked 23 tries from 0-10 metres this season – giving them by far the worst goal-line defence in the NRL.

Manly, with 19 tries from this distance, rank fourth in scoring from close range.

For the Raiders to return to the winner’s circle they need to completely reverse these numbers. They need to be the team down the other end creating all the chances. Otherwise it will be loss number eight in a row.

The History: Played 42; Sea Eagles 24, Raiders 17, drawn 1. Manly has won seven of the past nine clashes between the clubs, although the Raiders were victorious at Brookvale the last time these two teams came together in 2010. The Raiders haven’t been overly afraid of Brookvale Oval, with Manly only holding a 12-9 advantage there.

Meanwhile, the Raiders have never lost their opening four away matches of a season…  

Conclusion: These ‘half weeks’ are always hard to tip and upsets invariably occur but it is still almost a no-go to back the Raiders here. It’s doubtful the Sea Eagles will let down their home fans.

Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Steve Lyons; Touch Judges – Jason Walsh & Steve Chiddy; Video Ref – Bernard Sutton.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.