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Sea Eagles v Roosters
Brookvale Oval
Sunday 3pm
The Sea Eagles blew a golden chance to stay on the hammer of the Storm in the race for the minor premiership last week, their second-half micro-sleep allowing the Wests Tigers to snatch the competition points and clearing some of the uncertainty surrounding the final make-up of this year’s top eight.

Meanwhile the Roosters torpedoed the Bulldogs’ semi-finals hopes last week when recording just their second win in their past seven games. It edged them two wins clear of the Titans on the bottom of the ladder; unfortunately though, the calculator says they are no chance of making the semi-finals even if they were to win their remaining five games. All that’s left for them is to create massive headaches for sides still in with a shout at the top prize.

Manly coach Des Hasler has been at it again during the week – denying any focus by his side on finishing No.1 at the end of the scheduled rounds. But you can bet he would have been cheering himself hoarse when the Eels led the Storm 18-nil last Monday night.

This week looms as a danger game for the Sea Eagles, despite the opposition’s miserable year that has been marked by their inability to register even two wins in a row. Manly need to keep their grip on a top-two spot – they’re just one win ahead of the Cowboys and Broncos and three competition points ahead of the Dragons. With tough games against the Storm and Broncos to close their season, they won’t want to slip up here.

The Sea Eagles have been strengthened by the return of Tony Williams (recovered from his hamstring tear); he pushes Vic Mauro out of the squad of 17, although Mauro and Darcy Lussick make up an extended bench of 19. Winger Michael Robertson remains sidelined with concussion.

The only change to the Roosters’ side this week sees Nate Myles and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves swap jerseys, with Myles reverting to lock and JW-H shifting to prop.
The Sea Eagles have won nine of their past 11 games against the Roosters and need to score just 29 more points to register 1000 against the tricolours at Brookvale Oval.

Watch Out Sea Eagles: BJ Leilua will play just his second game at left centre this week and partnered with Shaun Kenny-Dowall the pair give the Roosters some formidable strength on the fringes. Leilua has a team-high 78 tackle-busts for the year, plus 12 line-breaks and seven tries. He’ll keep Jamie Lyon busy in defence.

Although Todd Carney has had a quiet year he needs to be shadowed at all times – he has eight line-breaks, 37 tackle-breaks and 14 offloads. He scored a try with explosive acceleration at first receiver against the Sea Eagles in Round 2. 

Danger Sign: Teams have enjoyed more success against Manly heading left than anywhere else on the park. The Sea Eagles have conceded 16 tries there, compared to eight in the left corner, four near the goal posts, 11 on the right fringe and 10 in the right corner. Manly’s right-side defenders need to stay alert.

Watch Out Roosters: Making territory against the Sea Eagles will be a hard slog – they’ve conceded the fewest metres by any side, averaging just 1261 a game. The Roosters will need to rely on their backs to make the huge inroads, with Nate Myles their only forward to average more than 100 running metres a game. Given Myles’ switch to lock, he’ll probably focus more on defence this week (averages 34 tackles) so others will have to step up.

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves rolled up his sleeves and made 158 metres last week and he’ll be expected to provide another big effort up against his former club.

If the Roosters don’t do better than their season-average 13.2 errors a game they can kiss their chances goodbye. They remain the most error-prone side in the NRL.

Expect William Hopoate to ramp up his involvement after a quiet return from injury. Young Hoppa leads the way for his side in territory gained (147 metres) and has scored eight tries. He’ll be looking to exploit a dodgy Roosters’ left-side defence that has leaked 30 tries.

Jamie Lyon and brothers Glenn and Brett Stewart will look to force the issue one man in from the right sideline, where the Roosters have yielded an NRL-high 21 four-pointers.

Danger Sign: Any time Jamie Lyon gets his hands on the ball 10 metres out from the Roosters’ try line, points will be on offer.

Plays To Watch: Brett Stewart chasing banana kicks in centre-field; Jamie Lyon’s leaps to catch cross-field bombs; Anthony Watmough’s fringe busts; Kieran Foran’s wrap-around supports (he scored a try this way in Round 2); Mitchell Pearce’s cut-out bullet passes on the right fringe; Todd Carney taking on the line often.

Where It Will Be Won: In the key head-to-head battles, namely Steve Matai v Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Kieran Foran v Todd Carney, Daly Cherry-Evans v Mitchell Pearce and Matt Ballin v Jake Friend. 

The clash between Kiwis Matai and Kenny-Dowall will be a cracker. Both are hard runners with an aggressive edge. Matai boasts 12 line-breaks – sixth most in the comp – while SKD has made 75 tackle-breaks, the twelfth most. With nine tries, he’s set to become only the fifth Tricolours payer in history to cross for 10 or more tries in four consecutive seasons.

Kieran Foran has made 11 line-break assists and 12 try assists; he’s proven more potent than the Roosters’ No.6 but memories of Carney’s breakout season in 2010 haven’t totally faded.

In his rookie year Daly Cherry-Evans has emerged as one of the most gifted late passers in the game, with a lovely underarm offload that continues to cause damage. He has 11 try assists – but he’s shaded by NSW halfback Mitchell Pearce’s 15 try assists (fourth most in the comp) and 13 line-break assists.

The bustling work of hookers Balin and Friend will be a focus too. Ballin’s 1840 receives are the fourth most in the comp, with Friend tallying the third-most tackles (856) and Ballin making 776 (fifth most). Friend’s 41 one-on-one tackles are the second most by any player.

Also, expect at least one of the fullbacks to save the day at some stage – Brett Stewart ranks third for tackle saves with 14 – one ahead of Roosters’ counterpart Anthony Minichiello.

The History: Played 117; Sea Eagles 76, Roosters 39, drawn 2. The Sea Eagles have won six of the past eight clashes including a 27-16 win at the SFS in Round 2. The Sea Eagles hold a 31-12 advantage in games at Brookvale Oval.

Conclusion: It took some Benji Marshall brilliance and a Robbie Farah forward pass for the Tigers to overhaul the Sea Eagles, so there are hardly panic stations at Narrabeen about their failure last week. But Des Hasler will be expecting a more committed effort here against a hot-and-cold opponent.

Manly by 12 points.

Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Henry Perenara; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.

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

* Stats: NRL Stats