Sea Eagles v Raiders preview

Manly Warringah Sea Eagles v Canberra Raiders
Brookvale Oval
Sunday 2pm

With plenty of fond memories from his last outing against the Green Machine – including a hat-trick of tries and his 100th NRL four-pointer – you can be sure newly re-signed Manly fullback Brett Stewart can’t wait to return to Fortress Brookvale on Sunday afternoon.

With the countdown to Origin selection well underway Stewart remains at the forefront of discussions regarding the contentious fullback position for the Blues. He knows a damaging game here up against Josh Dugan will go a long way to seeing his name read out on Monday week.

Certainly the No.1 was instrumental in their stirring victory over the Bulldogs last week, backing himself with a determined try shortly after half-time. And with five-eighth Kieran Foran an uncertain starter coach Geoff Toovey will be relying on Stewart for similar thrust here.

Manly’s win, just their second in their past six outings, sees them cling to eighth place on the ladder. They’re one of six sides on eight competition points – with this week’s opponent a win adrift in 13th position.

The Raiders were savaged by the Sharks 44-22 in the nation’s capital last week, conceding eight tries. It was their third loss in the past month and their third defeat at home in four outings there. Clearly they will continue to miss playmaker Terry Campese in attack but unless they find some backbone in defence the remainder of their season could quickly turn nightmarish.

In a curious development coach Geoff Toovey has named Kieran Foran to make his comeback from a hamstring strain this week – although Foran told reporters on Tuesday he was not recovered and was certain to sit on the sidelines for at least another week. Fun and games? We’ll see – in any event his brother Liam has been named on their extended interchange as cover.

Meanwhile Toovey has resisted the urge to retain match-winner George Rose, with the returning Darcy Lussick bumping the hulking prop from the bench. Also, Jamie Buhrer will start in the second row, with Daniel Harrison benched.

Raiders coach David Furner welcomes back Bronson Harrison on the interchange, while Travis Waddell will start at hooker for the injured Glen Buttriss.  

An ominous stat for the Raiders: they’ve won just two games in Sydney since the 2010 finals series.

Watch Out Sea Eagles: A Raiders “weakness’ could turn out to be shock weapon this week. Incredibly for a side that ranks among the leading teams for second-phase play (averaging 10.2 offloads) the Raiders remain one of four sides not to score from an offload. That’s a surprise given they have Bronson Harrison and Dave Shillington among their troops. Harrison ranks third in the comp for offloads (15) while Shillington has tallied 10 so far. The Manly goal-line defenders should be alert for offloads from close range.

Expect the Raiders to rely on plenty of attacking kicks. They’ve scored eight tries (third most) off the boot; meanwhile Manly have conceded nine tries to kicks, more than only two other sides. Cross-field bombs remain an issue (defusing just 50 per cent) while their flanks are susceptible to grubbers – Bryson Goodwin scored this way last week, with Jamie Lyon slow to react.

Canberra captain Shillington is in the form of his career, with all-time highs in metres gained (124.7) and tackles (21.7).

Danger Sign: Alarm bells will ring if the Raiders start to win the battle for territory. Manly are conceding the fourth-most metres to oppositions every week and are advancing only the third fewest. Meanwhile the Raiders rank sixth in the territory stakes. Their back-three are the key – Josh Dugan, Blake Ferguson and Reece Robinson average a massive 143 metres between them.

Watch Out Raiders: The halves combination of Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans had a night out the last time these sides met, with Foran adding two try assists and Cherry-Evans making a game-high eight tackle busts in Manly’s 20-nil victory (see below). With Cherry-Evans keen to push his claims for a bench spot with the Maroons you can bet he’ll be switched on again, while Kieran Foran (if he plays) or his substitute, older brother Liam, will look to post his first try assist of the year.

While the Raiders’ miss just the eighth-most tackles overall, they alarmingly concede more tries to line-breaks than any other side (17). Manly’s runners will have noted that – they have crossed for 12 tries off breaks (fourth most). Steve Matai, Dave Williams (four breaks) and Brett Stewart (three) are the men most likely.

The Sharks forced the home side into 7 line dropouts, the most by any team this season

Hooker Matt Ballin will be a threat from dummy-half – he’s crossed for two tries in five career games against the Green Machine.  

Danger Sign: Manly have kicked just the second-fewest cross-field bombs – but expect them to kick wide more often this week. If Cherry-Evans and either of the Foran brothers send the Steeden to the air it’s because they know Canberra are extremely dodgy under high balls aimed at their flanks – they defuse cross-field bombs just 36 per cent of the time. Only the Titans fare worse.  

Brett Stewart v Josh Dugan: A battle between one the game’s best finishers and a tear-away runner who’s tough to bring down.

Stewart scored three tries last clash with the Raiders and two of those were finishing efforts on the right flank. He’ll pop up there again, especially given the Raiders have leaked 21 tries on their left-hand side, the second most behind the Warriors’ 22. And Manly currently have a slight leaning to their right-side attack, with 10 tries scored.

Dugan has had an injury-interrupted season but he’s making 153 metres and has averaged almost seven tackle-breaks a game – the best strike rate in the category in the NRL. Manly’s kickers need to do better than their 48 per cent accuracy booting to open space (third worst) or Dugan will make them pay.

Where It Will Be Won: At marker and dummy-half. Canberra’s markers have made the fewest tackles by any team (138) and they can’t allow the Sea Eagles to dominate the ruck here. Also, the Raiders may struggle to slow the pace of the play-the-ball – they make the fewest tackles with team-mate on team-mate, their paltry 28 ‘flops’ way behind the NRL leaders North Queensland (157).

The History: Played 43; Sea Eagles 25, Raiders 17, drawn 1. The Sea Eagles hold a distinct advantage in recent match-ups, winning six of the past eight dating back to 2005. They have won 13 of the 22 games played at Brookvale Oval.

The Last Time They Met: Brett Stewart tore the Raiders apart with a hat-trick of tries as Manly scored a 20-nil whitewash at Brookvale Oval in horrendous conditions in Round 9 last year.

Winger Michael Robertson showed great skill to catch a Kieran Foran cross-field kick into the Raiders’ in-goal to open the scoring in the 17th minute. The Manly playmaker was at it again six minutes later, making an angled run from close range before passing inside for Stewart to score.

The Manly fullback notched his 100th NRL try five minutes after the break when he finished off a right-side sweep, then made it three for the evening when he crossed in the right corner with 63 minutes gone.

The Raiders had no answer to the Sea Eagles’ relentless attack, conceding an unanswered eight line-breaks, but they also made their job more difficult by tallying exactly double the home side’s 20 missed tackles – including 24 in the second half.

Jamie Lyon and Anthony Watmough were the major contributors, with 144 and 126 metres respectively.

Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Clayton Sharpe; Video Referee – Bernard Sutton.

The Way We See It: Brookvale Oval… Sunday afternoon… Raiders conceding 44 points last start… no Terry Campese… Manly on a high after getting the better of former coach Des Hasler. That equation adds up to a Manly victory by 13 points-plus.

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 2pm.

•    Statistics: NRL Stats