Sea Eagles v Eels preview

Manly Warringah Sea Eagles v Parramatta Eels
Brookvale Oval
Sunday 3pm

Sunday afternoon footy at a boutique, tribal ground, pairing two legendary rugby league foes looking to stoke the fires of their decades-old feud – does it get any better than this?

Well, perhaps only if the sides were closer together on the NRL ladder.

Nonetheless the cellar-dwelling Eels will be hoping to bash another dent in the premiership defence of the fifth-placed Sea Eagles, having lowered their colours in a shock 29-20 win at Parramatta Stadium back in Round 5 (see below). Certainly the Eels loom as Manly’s bogy team – a win on Sunday would make it two wins over the seasiders in a season for the fifth time in the past 18 years – not a bad return at all.

But it will be some win, given the Sea Eagles have named a full-strength line-up including back-rower Glenn Stewart and winger David Williams who are returning from injury, as well as Origin stars Brett Stewart, Anthony Watmough and Tony Williams.

Meanwhile the Eels look certain to be without fullback Jarryd Hayne who sustained ligament damage to his right foot in the closing moments of the Origin decider.  

Manly showed the Roosters no mercy with a nine-tries, 52-14 demolition in Round 16 before resting up with their second bye last weekend. They are poised to make their run at the top four and need to bank ‘easy kills’ like the Eels given they have some testing clashes against the Bulldogs, Warriors and Cowboys in the weeks ahead.

Meanwhile the Eels were out-enthused by the Knights at home last weekend. They matched motors until halftime but fell off the pace when Newcastle crossed for three tries in the opening 17 minutes after the break to put the issue beyond doubt.

After originally wielding the axe and dropping centre Willie Tonga from his 17, Hayne’s injury is expected to see the Eels field the backline that took the field against the Knights, with Luke Burt again suiting up in the No.1 and Tonga gaining a stay of execution at centre.

Manly coach Geoff Toovey welcomes back ‘The Wolfman’ David Williams on the right wing, with Dean Whare hitting the interchange. Tony Williams moves back into the second row with Parramatta-bound Daniel Harrison benched; Glenn Stewart, a late withdrawal from Origin with a knee ligament strain, will suit up in No.13 (subject to passing a late fitness test).

Having lost to the Storm last start at home Manly will be keen to avoid their first consecutive losses at Brookvale in two years.

It’s a big week for Manly prop Brent Kite who suits up for his 250th NRL game.

Watch Out Sea Eagles: Chris Sandow showed in one five-second passage early on against the Knights just why Parramatta signed him to orchestrate their plays. Sandow jinked and sidestepped a host of attentive defenders before providing a genius offload for Matt Keating to score. It was the type of play we remember all too well from his South Sydney days and it served to remind all that the talent is still there.

The Sea Eagles are having problems with attacking kicks, conceding the most to date (18).

Manly need to be alert to a late flurry from the Eels, especially if the match is close: 26 per cent of Parramatta’s points in 2012 have been scored in the final 10 minutes of games.

Danger Sign: He’s much-maligned in 2012 but stop and think for a moment how worse off Parramatta would be if Chris Sandow wasn’t helping them to the second-best rate for kicking to open space. Only Cooper Cronk and the Storm kickers find vacant pasture more often than the Eels (61 per cent). By comparison Daly Cherry-Evans and Jamie Lyon find open space just 50 per cent of the time.

Watch Out Eels: The Roosters had no answer to Manly’s attacking kicks in Round 16, with the premiers securing five tries off the boot – four off grubbers. Parramatta have conceded 17 tries off the boot, the second most by a team, and are the worst side at defusing grubbers (65 per cent).

Left-edge pairing Steve Matai and Jorge Taufua will be keen to pick up where they left off against the Eels back in Round 5 when they combined for 374 metres and three line-breaks.

Daly Cherry-Evans will be keen to grab bragging rights over Sandow back on his home patch. DC-E didn’t set the world on fire when they last met, running just four times and hardly busting a tackle. With 59 tackle busts so far to lead all halfbacks, he’s capable of a breakout game.

There’s no Ben Roberts in the Eels’ line-up, which is probably making the Sea Eagles breathe easier after his rampant attacking display back in Round 5. The now-dumped five-eighth conjured two try assists, made two line-breaks and added 143 metres with seven tackle-breaks last time they met. Someone is going to have to fill the gap this week.

Danger Sign: If Manly’s forwards meet their near 100-metre averages for territory the Eels may find it hard to get many opportunities down the other end – especially given Parramatta concede the most metres per game (1444).  

Jason King v Fuifui Moimoi: The coaches will be looking for more from their front-row linchpins given both sides have struggled to dominate up front. King will be out to lay a platform for his creative backs and will hammer out more territory than his current 98-metre average. His offloading up the guts (he ranks fifth for props with 13 so far) will prove tough to contain too. He made 16 hit-ups the last time they met. Meanwhile wrecking ball Moimoi (100 metres per game) has lifted in recent weeks and he will feed off the memory of his best game of the season against the premiers in Round 5 when he dominated with a series of long busts and a brace of tackle-breaks to lift his side.

Where It Will Be Won: Discipline with the football. Given an even share of errors and completions Manly should prove way too strong. But starve a favoured team of possession and the pendulum can quickly shift back to the underdog. There’s nothing between these sides in the discipline stakes, with Manly making the second fewest errors (10) and the Eels close behind (10.2), while Parramatta are completing their sets at 78 per cent efficiency to the Sea Eagles’ 77 per cent.    

The History: Played 127; Sea Eagles 78, Eels 45, drawn 4.  Manly have won five of the past eight clashes between the sides. They also hold a dominant advantage at Brookvale Oval, winning 39 of 57 matches played there, with one draw. Manly haven’t lost successive games

The Last Time They Met: Parramatta made a mockery of their four consecutive losses to open the 2012 season when blindsiding the premiers 29-20 at Parramatta Stadium in Round 4.

The visitors drew first blood when Jarryd Hayne plucked a cross-field bomb from the grasp of the Sea Eagles’ line defenders for a 6-nil lead with five minutes gone, before Brett Stewart returned fire shortly after. Centre Steve Matai broke away near halfway and kicked ahead for his fullback, who received a dream bounce to dive over under the posts.

However, back-to-back tries to Matt Keating (from dummy-half) and winger Ken Sio (off a Hayne cut-out pass) saw the Eels take a handy 18-6 lead midway through the half – although they surrendered that advantage on the stroke of halftime when Anthony Watmough crossed off a Daly Cherry-Evans grubber to make it 18-10 at oranges.

Two left-edge tries shortly after the resumption of play saw the visitors grab the lead for the first time in the evening, before Hayne struck again, taking an inside pass from Ben Roberts to cross on the hour. That made it 24-20, with the final scoreline rounded out by a couple of Chris Sandow penalty goals, plus a field-goal.

There was no question which was the superior team, with the Eels making eight line-breaks to Manly’s four. They also carved out a 228-metre territorial dominance.

Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Jason Walsh; Video Referee – Steve Clark.

The Way We See It: You could have made a case for an Eels upset with a fit Jarryd Hayne among their number. Without him, in front of a packed Brookvale crowd, their chances are slim. Manly by 12 points.

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

•    Statistics: NRL Stats