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Sea Eagles v Roosters
Brookvale Oval
Monday 7pm

After eight rounds of the 2013 NRL season we’ve already seen a number of highly anticipated top-of-the-table clashes, but when it comes to rounding out the weekend no Monday night game has whet the appetite quite like this one.

In fact, it’s fair to say that Fox Sports must think all of their Christmases have come at once! The Sea Eagles – NRL premiers just two years ago – look every bit the premiership contender again this season and showed that they still boast tremendous depth after overcoming injury and suspension woes to break a 16-year hoodoo at WIN Jubilee Stadium last week.

Yet it’s tough to know just what to make of Manly right now. No doubt they remain a genuine title contender in 2013 but it’s difficult to make any sense of their performances over the past fortnight: in Round 7 they made six line-breaks to South Sydney’s two, missed just 16 tackles to the Rabbitohs 30, made two less errors and completed 16 offloads to four… and lost.

Last week they enjoyed just 43 per cent possession and made 400 metres less than St George Illawarra... but came away with a 24-18 victory. So what now?

One thing we know for sure: Manly can’t afford to give away similar possession against the in-form Roosters – although it’s unlikely that will happen anyway at Fortress Brookvale. This Sea Eagles side is tough, determined and well and truly tuned in to the big occasion.

The Roosters, for their part, are a very different prospect this year to the side that battled their way through 2012. The arrival of key trio Sonny Bill Williams, Michael Jennings and James Maloney were always welcomed with tremendous excitement in Sydney’s east but the manner in which they have taken control of this side has exceeded the expectations of even the most optimistic fan.

Williams in particular has quickly lived up to the hype after looking a touch overwhelmed against South Sydney in Round 1, while Maloney is on the verge of displacing Todd Carney in the NSW side after forging a wonderful partnership with Mitchell Pearce during the early games.

A decisive performance in this one would surely book him a sky blue jersey.

In team changes, Manly welcome Steve Matai back from suspension this week with Tom Symonds reverting to the bench. Brett Stewart was named in the 17 earlier this week before scans confirmed he would be ruled out for a month. No official announcement has been made as to who will play fullback although Jorge Taufua filled in admirably in the win over the Dragons last week.

For the Roosters, Sam Moa’s knee injury sees Martin Kennedy move into the starting side up-front with Frank-Paul Nuuausala coming into the 17 on the bench.

Watch Out Sea Eagles: While much of the focus when talk turns to the Roosters is on their numerous superstars – Sonny Bill, Michael Jennings, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce and Anthony Minichiello – it’s hard to go past young winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck as the side’s most consistent performer of the season. The impressive youngster has played all eight games in 2013, scoring eight tries, making seven line-breaks and topping the side for both average metres (120.5) and tackle-breaks (30).

Watch Out Roosters: The Roosters might have Sonny Bill but Manly have Anthony Watmough – and his stats are far superior. The NSW State of Origin back-rower has been exceptional this season, lifting his average metres from 108 in 2012 to 145 in 2013 as well as adding 18 offloads and 19 tackle-breaks. With Glenn Stewart also back to bolster Manly’s back row, they are one side that can more than match the power of the Sydney Roosters’ big men.

Plays To Watch: The focus in the lead-up to this game has been on Sonny Bill Williams coming up against Manly’s right-edge defence but it could well be their left-edge defence that needs to be on the ball – particularly when Mitch Aubusson comes running off the hip of James Maloney. Maloney’s favourite play is to run to the line then hit the lead runner in Aubusson – hopefully attracting one defender himself while Michael Jennings attracts the other out the back. The play worked brilliantly against St George Illawarra two weeks ago, with Aubusson twice breaking the line as the lead runner.

Key Match-Up: Kieran Foran v James Maloney. The key battle of this contest sees Manly playmaker Kieran Foran lining up against NSW State of Origin hopeful Maloney. Foran has been superb for Manly this year, stepping up his involvement and wreaking havoc on the Sea Eagles’ left edge. Likewise, Maloney has been brilliant since arriving at Bondi in the pre-season, easing the pressure on halfback Mitchell Pearce and putting himself right in the mix for a NSW debut.

Where It Will Be Won: The edge defence will be crucial for both sides in this one. The Roosters boast a seriously imposing back row with Sonny Bill Williams on the right, Mitch Aubusson on the left and Luke O’Donnell and Aidan Guerra coming off the bench. They will take plenty of stopping, but so will Manly with Anthony Watmough in top form and Justin Horo looking like a new man this season on the left fringe. 

The History: Played 120; Sea Eagles 79, Roosters 39, drawn 2. Manly have won seven of the past nine clashes, including the past four.  

Match Officials: Referees –  Ashley Klein & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Adam Reid; Video Referees – Jared Maxwell & Matt Rodwell.

NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week including the Sea Eagles v Roosters clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.

Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7pm AEST.

The Way We See It: Flip a coin! This promises to be the best Monday night clash we’ll see all season with both sides in top form and with good reason to be confident this week. The Sea Eagles welcome back Steve Matai from suspension but have lost fullback Brett Stewart to injury which is a huge blow. In fact, we think it could prove decisive this week. It will be close but the loss of Stewart could give the Roosters a slight edge when it comes to strike-power. Roosters by two points. 

*Statistics: NRL Stats
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