Expect the feathers to fly when the in-form premiers return to ‘Fortress Brookvale’ and take on the out-of-sorts Roosters who are desperate for a change of luck to reignite their premiership campaign.
Manly are on a high after a daredevil last-minute play got them out of jail against the Broncos last week, with their third win in succession nudging them up one rung to fourth on the NRL ladder. Meanwhile the Roosters narrowly finished on the wrong side of the ledger in a see-sawing clash with the Warriors in Auckland. It was their third defeat in the past month and they have slipped to 11th on the ladder – although their 10 competition points are equal to the seventh-placed Bulldogs.
The Roosters can ill afford another loss at this stage and their cause has been made a heap tougher given they’ll be without key playmaker Mitchell Pearce who is in camp with the NSW Origin squad. Pearce’s call-up paves the way for the recall of Daniel Mortimer, who will partner skipper Braith Anasta in the halves.
Manly’s roster problems are considerably bigger – they’ve lost four members to the Blues’ 17, including the bulk of their available back row in Jamie Buhrer, Glenn Stewart and Tony Williams, plus fullback Brett Stewart. Considerable upside though is they’ll get back Maroons 18th man Daly Cherry-Evans for this game before he returns to the Queensland camp next Monday – plus five-eighth Kieran Foran has been named to take over from his older brother Liam, who has filled in so well during his younger sibling’s five-week absence with a hamstring complaint.
In other Manly changes, Dean Whare has been selected to wear the No.1 in Brett Stewart’s absence, with Joe Galuvao starting at lock for Glenn Stewart. Liam Foran, Nick Skinner, Vic Mauro and Tim Robinson have been named on a six-man interchange.
Aside from Mortimer’s inclusion Roosters coach Brian Smith’s only other change is the addition of Jack Bosden to form a five-man interchange. (He hasn’t been named but Frank-Paul Nuuausala may be some chance of making a return from his broken jaw one week ahead of schedule.)
The journey across the Spit Bridge is Brian Smith’s least favourite coach ride – Brookvale Oval has yielded the Roosters their fewest victories compared to all other venues (just a 24 per cent success rate).
But countering that is the omen that Manly have won just two Round 11 games in the past 15 seasons.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: The Roosters are the only side in the comp that score more tries around the goalposts (11) than on the edges (eight left, 10 right). Manly can expect plenty of rushes from close to the line as well as plenty of bombs and grubbers – the Roosters rank No.1 for tries scored from kicks with 13 to date. The flanks could also be a target for the high ball given Manly defuse cross-field bombs an unsatisfactory 45 per cent of the time.
Manly have conceded 12 tries to kicks – the second most by any side.
Anthony Minichiello may thrive against an understrength opponent. The former Blues No.1 is in devastating form, ranking second to Paul Gallen in total runs (193), third for kick-return metres and also support plays.
Former Sea Eagle Lama Tasi shouldn’t be under-estimated: last weekend the rookie tallied more than 100 metres off the interchange for the third consecutive week and he’s currently averaging a whopping 44 tackles a match. Tasi is no stranger to the trylines at Brookie – in his two seasons in the Toyota Cup for Manly he crossed for 10 tries in just 21 games.
Danger Sign: If the Roosters start stringing together some offloads and breaking a few tackles early, the under-strength Sea Eagles could be in trouble. The Roosters rank third in both categories and will test Manly’s makeshift defensive structures. The major offloading threats will be posed by Joseph Leilua (13), Brad Takairangi (11) and Braith Anasta, Anthony Minichiello and Shaun Kenny-Dowall (10 each).
Their biggest tackle-busters are Sam Perrett (49 – fourth in the comp), Leilua (40), Minichiello (37) and Kenny-Dowall (33). In fact the centre pairing of Leilua and Kenny-Dowall are the most powerful duo in the NRL, with a combined 77 tackle-breaks.
Watch Out Roosters: While the tricolours will fancy their chances off the boot, so too will Manly – the Roosters are defusing cross-field bombs with just 40 per cent effectiveness and have surrendered eight tries to the boot. Manly have scored nine tries from kicks.
David Williams looks set for another huge afternoon at home. The former Blues rep and right winger has built a formidable record at Brookvale, tallying 23 tries from only 22 games – a strike rate better than team-mate Brett Stewart’s 0.92 tries per game. Just one try here would see him become only the sixth winger in history to notch a century of points at the venue. There’s every chance that will happen given Manly hammered the Roosters’ left-edge defence last time they met, scoring a whopping five tries down their right side.
Co-captain Jason King will be pumped for a big game after missing out on Origin – he is averaging 104 metres and ranks second among props for offloads with 12 so far. So too the unlucky Anthony Watmough, who is averaging 15 runs and 115 metres.
Danger Sign: If the Roosters make a few fumbles early in proceedings it could infect the remainder of their performance. Looking at their statistics it’s difficult to fathom why the Roosters aren’t sitting much higher on the ladder – until you look at their error counts. To date they are averaging 12.3 errors a game – the third most. They won’t want to repeat their last effort at Brookvale either: they committed 15 mistakes with the ball in hand.
Steve Matai v Shaun Kenny-Dowall: This head-to-head clash of the Kiwis could hold the key to the game. Matai is in career-best form with 109 metres, 24 tackle-breaks and four tries. It was his 40-metre break that led to Manly’s match-winner last week. Meanwhile Kenny-Dowall remains one of the game’s biggest right-edge threats, especially from close range. Whoever comes out on top will likely sing the team song in the dressing sheds afterwards.
Where It Will Be Won: Covering for key players lost to Origin. Mitchell Pearce has made nine try assists for the Roosters, with their next highest contributor Kenny-Dowall making just two. Meanwhile Buhrer and Williams each make more than 100 metres a game and together with the Stewart brothers they tally more than 80 tackle-breaks between them. That’s a lot of strike-power they’ll miss.
The History: Played 118; Sea Eagles 77, Roosters 39, drawn 2. The Sea Eagles have won seven of the past nine clashes and hold a commanding 32-12 advantage in games at Brookvale Oval.
The Last Time They Met: The Sea Eagles thumped the Roosters 36-8 at a wet Brookvale Oval in Round 22 last year.
Manly raced to a 12-nil lead at halftime and piled on five more tries in the second section to overwhelm the visitors, who took until the 63rd minute – with Manly leading 28-nil – to register their first points.
Much of the Roosters’ misfortune was of their own making – they completed their sets at an atrocious 55 per cent compared to the Sea Eagles’ 80 per cent. Consequently they were forced into making a whopping 68 tackles more than their opponents and found it hard to get any sort of field position, restricted to just 960 metres all up. They also committed 14 errors.
Meanwhile nine Manly players registered triple-figure metre gains, headed by fullback Brett Stewart (130 metres).
William Hopoate and Steve Matai each scored two tries with halfback Daly Cherry-Evans, captain Jamie Lyon and back-rowers Glenn Stewart and Tony Williams scoring one apiece.
The scoreboard could have been a lot worse had Lyon been on target with the boot – he was successful with just two of his eight attempts at goal.
Nevertheless the Roosters crossed for one of the tries of the year with just 18 seconds left on the clock; in an 80-metre advance the ball swept through a dozen pairs of hands before Mitchell Pearce chip-kicked wide into the hands of unmarked winger Phil Graham who dived over for some small consolation.
Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Jared Maxwell; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Dave Ryan; Video Referee – Pat Reynolds.
The Way We See It: The Roosters have a chance if they can build pressure and get on top of the Manly pack but given the home side’s backline still boasts Cherry-Evans, Kieran Foran, Lyon, Matai and Williams, they should have enough potency to get the job done. Sea Eagles by eight points.
Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 2pm.
• Statistics: NRL Stats