Sea Eagles v Broncos preview

Manly Sea Eagles v Brisbane Broncos
Brookvale Oval
Friday 7.35pm

Will Broncos fans have any fingernails left after this weekend? Six losses from their past seven matches – including five straight – leave Brisbane in danger of dropping out of the top eight altogether should they fail against the in-form Sea Eagles on Friday night.

If that weren’t enough motive they’ll also be out for revenge after Manly snatched a win from the fire in the final minute of play in their meeting at Suncorp Stadium back in Round 10 (see below). 

Meanwhile the soaring Sea Eagles will be looking to drop on their struggling opponents from a great height in this penultimate round of the regular season to guarantee themselves a spot in the all-important top four.

Manly were devastating in disposing of Newcastle 42-20 last weekend – although the 38-4 halftime scoreline was probably a better indicator of their form. The victory was their fourth in a row since falling 20-12 to the Bulldogs in Round 20; in that time they’ve averaged more than 24 points a game, with halves Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran as well as brothers Brett and Glenn Stewart in particular getting back their mojos.  

However, last week’s 80 minutes came at a cost, with cult winger David Williams ruled out for seven months with a torn ACL and hooker Matt Ballin and interchange Jamie Buhrer sustaining minor injuries that thankfully don’t look like keeping them off the scene this week.

Meanwhile Brisbane haven’t exactly been woeful in falling 22-14 to the Bulldogs and 19-18 to the Storm over the past fortnight – although worryingly they did let slip 14-nil and 12-nil leads respectively. They certainly won’t want to relax should they hit the front again here – especially given they were burned at the death by Manly last meeting.

Last week against the Storm they displayed a massive improvement in their defence – having averaged an embarrassing 44 tackle misses since Round 16 they steadied the ship to miss just 24 against the Storm. 

Manly coach Geoff Toovey has called up Dean Whare to cover for David Williams, while Jason King and Jamie Buhrer have been named to take their places. Having served out his suspension Darcy Lussick has been added to form a bench of five players. 

Broncos coach Anthony Griffin has made one cosmetic change to his starting 13 this week, with Corey Parker reverting to lock and Ben Te’o switching back to the second row. In a boost, Alex Glenn and Josh McGuire are back; they will be injected off the bench.

It’s a milestone week for last year’s Rookie of the Year Daly Cherry-Evans who suits up for his 50th NRL game in Manly colours.

Watch Out Sea Eagles: If Corey Norman and Peter Wallace are on song with their attacking kicks the points could flow – Manly have conceded 27 tries to kicks so far, the most by any team. The Broncos scored three tries from kicks down their right side when these sides last met, with Matt Gillett the favourite target. 

Corey Parker may have disappointingly struck out with his goal-kicking back in Round 10 but he was still a huge contributor with 22 hit-ups, 175 metres, two offloads, six tackle busts and 40 tackles. The tireless lock needs just 49 metres here to top 25 kilometres of runs in a Broncos jersey. 

Ben Te’o and Alex Glenn are in the midst of a personal try-scoring duel. South Sydney-bound Te’o has been a surprise packet of late – he leads the side for line-breaks (10) and has crossed for nine tries, just two behind the record for a Broncos forward he set last year (Glenn has 11 so far, equal with Te’o’s record mark).

Danger Sign: If the Broncos’ runners aren’t knocked over effectively from the kick-off the visitors will grow in confidence. The Broncos work for each other in attack and love to get on a roll – they are among the strongest ball-runners in the league, averaging nearly 36 tackle busts a game (a mark bettered only by the Bulldogs). Conversely Manly have been guilty at times of dropping their intensity when defending – they average almost 35 missed tackles a match, with only three teams registering more.

Watch Out Broncos: No question Manly’s centres Jamie Lyon and Steve Matai will generate scoring opportunities and may even cross the stripe themselves. Lyon has proven to be the most difficult three-quarter to handle in 2012, leading his position for try assists (with 15) and line-break assists (with 13). He ripped the Broncos apart last contest, scoring a try and setting up two others. Left-side centre Matai was similarly destructive that afternoon, scoring a try and adding two line-breaks as he carved out 142 metres with the ball in hand. 

Daly Cherry-Evans will relish the chance to rub salt into the Broncos’ festering wounds in his 50th first grade game. The No.7 was largely responsible for Brisbane’s demise in 2011 when he set up two try assists as Manly prevailed in the grand final qualifier. Also, Cherry-Evans racked up 10 tackle busts in that game – equal to the fourth most by any halfback in NRL history. He leads all halfbacks in the category with 81 to date. With Manly’s backline hitting its straps DC-E will be a valuable creator and also support player who will need to be shadowed at all times. 

Danger Sign: If the ‘Prince of Brookvale’ Brett Stewart takes control. The speedy No.1 exhibited great form with two tries in his NRL backyard last week and added a try assist to boot. It took his tally for the year to nine from 16 games. In particular watch for his ‘Snake’-like supports off Cherry-Evans, Kieran Foran and brother Glenn in the centre of the park, as well as his cutout passes to his wingers to get them on the outside of Gerard Beale and Josh Hoffman.

Tony Williams v Sam Thaiday: Get ready to feel the earth shake when these steamrolling back-rowers lock horns down the same side of the field! Williams recaptured his best form last week; he scored two tries, set up another, and left nine would-be Knights defenders sprawled on the turf – all from just 11 runs. Williams ranks third by back-rowers for territorial gain with 124 metres per match. Meanwhile with the Broncos’ season in the balance skipper Thaiday will be out to lead by example. Steve Matai and Daly Cherry-Evans can expect to see plenty of big Sam all afternoon – especially when the Broncos work inside the Manly 10-metre zone. Brisbane have scored 49 tries inside the opposition red zone in 2012, the most by any side. 

Where It Will Be Won: Getting the balance right. Over the past 10 weeks Manly have averaged more tries than any side (4.7); over the same period the once-resolute Brisbane defence has recorded the highest missed-tackle rate (40.8). If that trend continues it could get ugly for the visitors.

The History: Played 35; Sea Eagles 17, Broncos 17, drawn 1. Manly have the wood over the Broncos in recent clashes, winning six of the past eight. They boast an 8-5 advantage at Brookvale Oval, with one match drawn.

The Last Time They Met: Manly winger David Williams silenced the home fans when he scored a thrilling last-gasp try to snatch the reigning premiers a 24-22 victory at Suncorp Stadium in Round 10.

Despite missing Peter Wallace and Justin Hodges to injury Brisbane looked to have done enough to secure the two competition points when they led 22-20 with two minutes remaining. However, Manly advanced the length of the field during their final set in possession, with Williams sliding over in the right corner off a Jamie Lyon pass after some great lead-up work from Jamie Buhrer and a long-range line-break by Steve Matai down the left edge.

It was a cruel result for the Broncos, who outscored their opponents five tries to four – with the normally accurate Corey Parker missing all four of his conversion attempts.

Brisbane played an almost perfect first 40 minutes of football – they completed 94 per cent of their sets and missed just six tackles – yet incredibly trudged to the sheds at halftime trailing 14-12!

Jamie Lyon starred for Manly, bagging a try and offering the final pass for Williams’ two four-pointers, while Matai was a threat on the left edge, scoring a try, adding 142 metres and two line-breaks and tallying a game-high six tackle busts. 

Broncos forwards Parker, Ben Hannant and Josh McGuire provided a great platform for their backs with gains of 175 metres, 161 metres and 150 metres respectively, while Corey Norman’s pinpoint boot laid on two tries.

Match Officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Jason Robinson; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Grant Atkins; Video Referee – Chris Ward. 

The Way We See It: This shapes as the match of the round: the reigning premiers building to top form at the right time of the year, up against the Broncos with their backs to the wall. We get the whiff of an upset in the air but can’t bring ourselves to back against Manly on their patch. Sea Eagles by two points in a free-flowing affair.

Televised: Channel 9 – Live 7.30pm (Qld), delayed 9.30pm (NSW); Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 1am.

*Statistics: NRL Stats