Manly Warringah Sea Eagles v Melbourne Storm
There won’t be any Adam Blair in the Storm line-up this time around but don’t think that will take any heat out of the intense rivalry between these two combatants in their ‘battle of Brookvale’ rematch.
Relationships between the two clubs have been strained ever since the back-to-back grand finals of 2007 and 2008, with Melbourne dominating the first encounter before the Sea Eagles embarrassed the then-defending premiers with a 40-nil whitewash 12 months later.
The scabs were ripped open again in Round 25 last year when Manly’s Glenn Stewart and now-Wests Tiger Blair were sent from the field for fighting midway through the first half of the clash won 18-4 by the premiers. The pair infamously reignited their feud as they trudged from the field, prompting an all-in brawl that spilled over the sidelines as players from both sides sprinted across to get involved.
While subsequent suspensions and fines dished out thankfully mean we won’t see a repeat of those nasty scenes any time in the future, that doesn’t mean fans won’t ‘feel the hate’ on the field on Monday night.
Premiers Manly, with five wins in their past six games, know the table-topping Storm are ripe for the picking – especially given their weakened backline, with Billy Slater out with a knee injury and blockbusting centre Will Chambers off the scene indefinitely with a blood clotting disorder.
Manly rested up with the bye last week, having accounted for St George Illawarra 20-8 in clinical fashion at Brookvale Oval in Round 13. Coach Geoff Toovey will be hoping his NSW Origin trio, brothers Brett and Glenn Stewart and Anthony Watmough, will be fit to back up after Wednesday night’s bruising, emotional win. Their roster is strengthened this week by the return of co-captain Jason King, who bumps Joe Galuvao to the interchange. The downer though is that Steve Matai has one game to serve on his suspension.
Melbourne have hit a few hurdles recently, falling (not totally unexpectedly) to the Wests Tigers last week without their three Origin stars, losing Chambers… and now Slater – possibly for up to a month. They retain their four-point lead at the top of the table but a loss here would give the chasers, including the fifth-placed Sea Eagles, encouragement as the race for the minor premiership quickens.
In a major reshuffle to the Storm’s team sheet, Slater’s knee injury will likely see Matt Duffie retain the No.1 jersey he filled against the Wests Tigers last week, with Justin O’Neill moving to the wing and Maurice Blair similarly suiting up at centre again. Substitute halfback Rory Kostjasyn makes way for Cooper Cronk.
In the forwards, Cameron Smith takes over at No.9, with Ryan Hinchcliffe moving into the second row for Bryan Norrie who moves to the bench.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: Manly’s defence will be tested by some players used to breaking into open space. The Storm rank second for line-breaks, averaging 5.5 a week (Manly make the fifth fewest with 3.7) – the major threats will be Dane Nielsen (nine), Gareth Widdop (eight) and Matt Duffie (six).
Widdop will shoulder more of the attack with Slater missing – in particular he will scheme down the left edge between the 20-metre line and halfway, where Manly have conceded 10 tries so far. Widdop has eight try assists and nine line-break assists. He also has flashing pace and may go himself.
Danger Sign: If Cameron Smith takes control of the ruck and the Storm forwards get on a roll, particularly on the edges. Smith leads all players for involvement (1305 receives).
Expect the Storm spine’s ‘power play’ to be called on at least once – Smith will duck out of dummy-half to the right, pass back across the face of the ruck to Cooper Cronk who will then hot-potato the ball inside to a charging runner (possibly Widdop or Duffie).
Watch Out Storm: The Storm defenders need to rush up on Manly’s kickers late in tackle counts or Daly Cherry-Evans and Jamie Lyon will claw out huge territory. Manly gain the most metres off the boot (6789 metres so far).
Just because they’re the Storm won’t mean diddly squat to Manly on Monday night – they have defeated Melbourne in seven of 10 clashes at Brookvale Oval.
Kieran Foran is warming back to some good attacking form after a slow start. The Kiwi is prized for his ability to put team-mates through gaps and he’s now done so five times in just seven games, with a couple of try assists as well. Foran has saluted in four of six games against the Storm, scoring three tries. Moreover, he remains undefeated at Brookvale Oval since Round 26, 2010!
Anthony Watmough is another Sea Eagle who hates losing. ‘Choc’ will be out to make sure this week doesn’t go down on his resume as his 100th career loss.
Danger Sign: Any time Jamie Lyon gets the ball. Fresh off the bye and with no fatigue from being involved in Origin, Lyon is making some silky contributions in attack. He has made nine try assists and eight line-break assists on the right edge.
Daly Cherry-Evans v Cooper Cronk: There are no fears about Cooper Cronk losing his Maroons No.7 jersey but Cherry-Evans will be out to remind Queensland selectors of his worth as an impact player should they need to tweak their bench for the Origin decider on July 4. Cherry-Evans has shouldered a lot of the workload in attack through the first half of the season but now his halves partner Kieran Foran is back to full fitness he’ll be able to be more selective with his contributions – and more potent. DC-E has made 10 try assists so far and 55 tackle busts – 18 more than the next most-prolific running halfback, the Warriors’ Shaun Johnson.
Cooper Cronk will still be dirty on himself for leaving the Maroons short-handed following his professional foul on Todd Carney last Wednesday night and will be keen to bounce back with a hands-on effort here – and he’ll need to with Slater out. Cronk leads all-comers for try assists (20) and line-break assists (16) and will look to get more involved with Matt Duffie, Justin O’Neill and also Dane Nielsen this week.
Where It Will Be Won: Attack. While both sides are defending well (Storm ranked No.1 and Manly No.3 for fewest points conceded) Melbourne are a class above the premiers in posting points, with a league-high 27.5 each week so far. Meanwhile the Sea Eagles have struggled in attack, with nine sides scoring more than their 17.5 points average. With Slater missing you can take at least six points off the Storm here – but Manly will still need to be creative and execute well if they’re to compete.
The History: Played 21; Storm 11, Sea Eagles 10. The Sea Eagles have won five of the past eight clashes between the sides and hold a 10-7 advantage at Brookvale Oval.
The Last Time They Met: The Sea Eagles defeated the Storm 18-4 in Round 25 last season in an emotion-charged game that will forever be remembered as the ‘battle of Brookvale’.
Ugly scenes of Glenn Stewart and Adam Blair given their marching orders were tempered by Storm players shielding and comforting Manly winger David Williams, who broke a vertebrae in his neck midway through the first half.
Manly five-eighth Kieran Foran posted the game’s first points, coming from the clouds to pounce on a Jamie Lyon centre-field kick in the fifth minute to score one of the best tries of the season. Foran initiated the play with a bomb for left winger Michael Robertson, who batted the ball back infield while his body was over the sideline. The ball was passed between a procession of Sea Eagles before Daly Cherry-Evans spiralled a long pass to Lyon on the right flank, with the centre hoisting a hopeful kick towards the goalposts. The Storm’s backs appeared to have the Steeden covered but an awkward bounce propelled it into the hands of Foran for a remarkable try.
A Lyon penalty after the Stewart/Blair fracas edged the Sea Eagles to an 8-nil lead after 27 minutes and when Tony Williams, filling in on the right wing for injured namesake David, scored shortly after, the Sea Eagles headed to the dressing sheds with a 14-nil advantage.
Any chance of a Storm revival was snuffed out when Williams bagged his second try in the right corner with 56 minutes gone.
Melbourne were fortunate to avoid a whitewash on the evening, only getting on the scoreboard when Billy Slater slid through some complacent defence to score with six seconds remaining.
Key to the Sea Eagles victory was their dominant attack, with their players making four line-breaks to Melbourne’s one (to Slater).
Second-rower Shane Rodney had his best game in the maroon and white, making 17 hit-ups for 178 metres, plus a line-break.
Billy Slater ran the ball fiercely, making 10 tackle-breaks and 146 metres.
Match Officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Jared Maxwell; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Jason Walsh; Video Referee – Paul Simpkins.
The Way We See It: The Storm won’t have too many friends at Brookvale on Monday night! The parochial home crowd will be worth a few points, while Billy Slater’s absence will cost the Storm on the scoreboard. If Manly bounce around with enthusiasm from the outset, and play a smart game, they will win. Sea Eagles by six points.
Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 7pm.
• Statistics: NRL Stats