Roosters v Sea Eagles preview

Sydney Roosters v Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Allianz Stadium
Sunday 3pm

Time to watch the feathers fly! Fresh from hijacking the Wests Tigers the Roosters return to their Moore Park nest focussed on some get-square with the premier Sea Eagles after they were denied in controversial circumstances just five weeks ago at Brookvale Oval.

Manly won their Round 11 clash 18-10 – but not before the Roosters had a vital second-half try disallowed after interchange forward and ball-runner Brad Takairangi was penalised for the illegal use of his elbow in the lead-up (see below).

That loss was the Roosters second in a recent four-game negative streak that only ended when they blitzed the grieving Wests Tigers last Sunday, with the two competition points gleaned from their 42-28 victory still leaving them two wins adrift of eighth-placed Manly.

Clearly a Roosters victory here would confirm they are not a spent force in 2012. They were devastating in attack against the Tigers, making eight blistering line-breaks – although they were assisted in part by some inattentive defence, with 52 missed tackles from the gold-and-blacks.

Another defeat would consign Manly to more than a smidgeon of anxiety as they count their casualties through the Origin period. Of greatest concern is the loss of back-rower Glenn Stewart, who suffered knee ligament damage in the side’s bruising four-point loss to the Storm last Monday night. Meanwhile Anthony Watmough is ‘playing injured’, battling bulging discs in his back, which could account for some of his out-of-character defensive lapses of late.    

Manly cannot afford to lose sight of the bottom half of the top eight. They are currently one of three sides on 18 competition points and there are four teams ahead of them on 20 points. They rest up with their second bye next week, so banking four competition points before they take on Parramatta the week after Origin III could see them nudging the all-important top four.

Roosters coach Brian Smith has signalled just the one change this week, opting to start Jake Friend at hooker with Anthony Mitchell reverting to the bench. Tom Symonds, Tinirau Arona and Daniel Mortimer are the new faces on their extended interchange.

In a significant boost to their strike-power out wide, Manly welcome back Steve Matai after his two-match suspension, with Dean Whare moving to the wing at the expense of Bondi-bound Michael Oldfield. Jamie Buhrer will start at lock for the injured Glenn Stewart, with Vic Mauro joining the interchange.

It’s a milestone week for Manly fullback Brett Stewart who will play his 150th game in the maroon and white.   

In an ominous statistic, Manly have had their colours lowered by the Roosters just twice in their past 13 match-ups.

Watch Out Roosters: Staying in the good books with the refs will take them a long way towards victory here. The Roosters really are shooting themselves in the foot with ill-discipline – along with the Raiders they have won the fewest penalty counts (2-9) to date.

Brett Stewart will be focused on a banner match in his 150th NRL appearance – he has scored a try (117 in total) with every 33.7 touches of the football since his debut in 2003. That’s pretty much his average match receives of late, so another four-pointer – at least – looms large.

Steve Matai’s force will be welcomed down the left edge. The powerful Kiwi leads his teammates for line-breaks with eight from nine games and is sure to test out Tautau Moga’s defence.

Outside of Matai, Jorge Taufua will be keen to continue his excellent form of late. The hulking winger made 15 runs for 133 metres with a game-high seven tackle-breaks against the Roosters in Round 11 and was his side’s best player against the Storm last Monday night with 19 searching runs for 230 metres, with six tackle-breaks, three line-breaks, two offloads and a try.

Danger Sign: Any time the Sea Eagles head right. They scored all three of their tries on that side of the field in their Round 11 win and have crossed for 22 tries down that corridor compared to 13 on the left. In particular Peni Tagive had better brace for an onslaught: only the Cowboys have scored more than the Sea Eagles’ 15 tries adjacent to the right corner post.

Watch Out Sea Eagles: This is likely to be Sam Perrett’s swansong for the Roosters before he joins the Bulldogs so expect the talented winger to go out with a bang. He ranks 11th for hit-ups (with 209) and averages four dashes out of dummy-half per game, but will no doubt go looking for more action here.

The Roosters are in a rampaging mood in 2012, ranking second for tackle-breaks with 36.2 made every week. And last week they left a trail of battered Tigers behind them when racking up 58 tackle busts – the second most in the tricolours’ history. They also made a season-high eight line-breaks.  

The Roosters’ forwards are hungry for the try line after five members of their pack crossed for four-pointers against the Tigers. He didn’t score last week but it would be fitting if hooker Jake Friend bagged a try here after contributing three try assists. Five of his seven career tries have come at Allianz Stadium and he’ll get the chance to end a 21-year hoodoo by Roosters hookers crossing the stripe against Manly.   

Danger Sign: Jorge Taufua will be a target for plenty of cross-field bombs. The winger was beaten to a Braith Anasta kick by Sam Perrett who crossed for a try last time they met and he was again outleapt last Monday night, with Storm winger Matt Duffie touching down off a high ball.   

Mitchell Pearce v Daly Cherry-Evans: It could distil down to which playmaker has the most impact on the afternoon. Blues No.7 Pearce’s forte in 2012 is his ability to put teammates through holes, notching 12 line-break assists to date (second most behind Cooper Cronk). Pearce starred last week, with a try, try assist and line-break. Meanwhile Cherry-Evans needs to be watched around the ruck – he loves to change the point of the attack with a rush down the short side and he caught the Roosters napping in this fashion in Round 11 when setting up a try for Michael Oldfield on the right wing. Manly’s 78 raids down the short right side are the third most by any side.

Where It Will Be Won: If the Roosters win it will be due to their success down the short left side – the tricolours have hit the blindside on BJ Leilua’s side of the field 108 times so far, with only the Cowboys favouring the play more. For the Sea Eagles it’s all down to how they handle attacking kicks. They’ve conceded 17 tries to the boot – the equal most by any team.

The History: Played 119; Sea Eagles 78, Roosters 39, drawn 2. Manly have won six of the past eight clashes, including the past three. They also have the wood on the Roosters at Allianz Stadium, winning 11 of the 17 games played there.  

The Last Time They Met: The Sea Eagles, minus brothers Brett and Glenn Stewart and Jamie Buhrer to NSW Origin duty, escaped with an 18-10 victory in a controversy-marred clash at Brookvale Oval in Round 11.

The Roosters fell behind on the scoreboard early when Manly winger Michael Oldfield crossed in the right corner for a four-nil lead in the fifth minute. However, tries to Sam Perrett (off a cross-field bomb) and Daniel Mortimer (after some great lead-up work from BJ Leilua) saw them take a 10-4 lead at the 31-minute mark.

The Roosters defended grimly for the rest of the half and would have led at the break had it not been for a horror bounce of the Steeden off a Liam Foran chip kick that trampolined over the head of the covering Sam Perrett and into the hands of Steve Matai with two minutes before oranges. The Manly centre’s fortunate try saw the sides head to the sheds locked at 10-all.

Penrith-bound Dean Whare laid on a wonderful assist for Daniel Harrison to gift the home side a 16-10 lead with 45 minutes gone before the Roosters were denied what appeared to be a legitimate try in the 58th minute. However, video referee Pat Reynolds spied that Roosters ball carrier Brad Takairangi had charged into opposition defender Daniel Harrison with a raised elbow before he offloaded to support Daniel Mortimer, who sliced through to touch down from 20 metres out. Takairangi was penalised and placed on report and the pressure was off the Sea Eagles.

A Jamie Lyon penalty goal gave Manly an eight-point buffer with eight minutes remaining.  

Fill-in fullback Whare starred for the Sea Eagles, making 108 metres and setting up Harrison’s try with a sublime short pass, while halfback Daly Cherry-Evans had his best running game of the year and made seven tackle-breaks.

Daniel Mortimer did a great job substituting for missing NSW halfback Mitchell Pearce, scoring a try and making five tackle-breaks.

However, it wasn’t a high-quality clash, with both sides making plenty of handling errors: Manly completed their sets at just 70 per cent (13 errors), marginally better than the Roosters’ 69 per cent (10 errors).

Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Steve Lyons; Sideline Officials – Dave Abood & Steve Carrall; Video Referee – Chris Ward.

The Way We See It: The Roosters played with plenty of energy last week but we don’t know how strong the form line is given the distress of the Tigers. Meanwhile the Sea Eagles pretty much matched motors with the Storm last Monday night and that’s good enough to clinch the verdict. Manly by six points in a classic.

Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 6pm.

•    Statistics: NRL Stats