Roosters v Sea Eagles preview

Roosters v Sea Eagles
Allianz Stadium
Monday, 7pm

In a week of great battles – including the second State of Origin and the Labor leadership change – this match serves as the icing on one almighty feast of a cake. There’s no love lost between these two teams either – just like between Gillard and Rudd, and the Blues and Maroons – and that animosity is likely to create some great viewing come Monday night.

This clash is more than just a tussle between third and fifth on the table; it’s now a war of personal duels between two teams fighting to be known as the NRL’s best in 2013. The match-ups are intriguing and pit some of the game’s best against each other, even if they mightn’t come face to face throughout the 80 minutes – Michael Jennings and Shaun Kenny-Dowall v Jamie Lyon and Steve Matai; Mitchell Pearce v Daly Cherry-Evans; Sonny Bill Williams v Anthony Watmough. And, to add even more theatre to proceedings, the suspended Jared Waerea-Hargreaves – given a five-match ban for his tackle on George Rose against Manly earlier this year – returns in timing sweeter than a Michael Clarke cover drive. 

The Roosters, in third position, are as you’d expect one of 2013’s best-performing teams following a 10-and-four start to the season and a defensive record that has them ranked best in the league (they concede just 13.2 points per game). The Sea Eagles, meanwhile, are perhaps the quiet achievers of the NRL– without their biggest star in fullback Brett Stewart since Round 8, they’ve gone about their business with an efficiency most other teams could only dream of. 

A slight worry for coach Geoff Toovey, though, will be his team’s back-to-back two-point losses to the Warriors and Bulldogs – the first consecutive defeats his team has suffered in 2013. They sit in fifth position with seven wins from 13 starts.

Roosters coach Trent Robinson has made a handful of changes to the side that disposed of the Dogs last weekend, with the three Origin stars and one international returning to the line-up. NSW Blues duo Jennings and Pearce all return (James Maloney’s possible fractured cheekbone makes him an unlikely starter). Their comeback sees last week's halves pairing of Daniel Mortimer and Williams, along with Mitchell Aubusson, all return to their usual roles in the side with ‘SBW’ and Aubusson named in the back row and Mortimer on the bench (though he could start given Maloney’s injury). Aidan Guerra and Frank-Paul Nuuausala also return to the timber. As mentioned, Kiwi prop Waerea-Hargreaves also returns.

Manly coach Geoff Toovey has named an identical side to that which fell short against Canterbury in Round 14. Origin representatives Watmough and Cherry-Evans have been named and are expected to play, while utility Tom Symonds will line up against his former club for the first time since departing Bondi earlier this year. Rumour has it star fullback Brett Stewart could also be a late inclusion – and a huge boost – for Manly, too.

Watch Out Roosters: There’s not much to like about the Roosters in this clash is you’re a punter and looking at pure statistics. The Sea Eagles have won their past five Allianz Stadium fixtures, scoring 33.8 points per game in the process, and are undefeated at the venue since 2010. Manly have won 12 of their past 15 matches against the Roosters too, and the boys from Bondi have only once defeated the Sea Eagles twice in a season… in more than 30 years! The Roosters even average fewer points against Manly than any other active opponent – just 14.7 points per game!

Watch Out Sea Eagles: The Roosters have proven incredibly hard to crack this season, as their miserly defensive statistics indicate. They’ve held their opponents to single-digit scores six times this year (including shutouts against the Broncos, Eels and Bulldogs). They’ve conceded 20 points or more on just four occasions – against the Raiders, Storm, Warriors and, second time around, against Parramatta. Manly coach Toovey better do his homework.

Plays To Watch: Perhaps the biggest battle to keep an eye on is the Sea Eagles’ attack up against the Roosters’ defence. The home side have won a just-okay three of six matches this season against top-eight sides and will be relying on their defence to dominate proceedings here. Look for Manly to spin the ball to their left-side players in attacking opportunities – the right-side defence of the Roosters was exposed early in the first half on two occasions in their game earlier this season against Melbourne. It’s not the key to a victory but it’s a crack the Sea Eagles will look to exploit. 

Look for Sonny Bill here, there and everywhere, too – he’s been incredibly effective in recent weeks and leads all the competition’s back-rowers for line-breaks, line-break assists and try assists. He’s a playmaker in a power forward’s body… and he’s looking unstoppable at the moment.

Key Match-Up: Mitchell Pearce v Daly Cherry-Evans should be a cracking one-on-one battle. Both No.7s are backing up from Origin and how they perform their job and fulfil their team’s requirements will greatly influence those around them. Will Pearce, after disappointment in Origin II, be down on form – and vice-versa for Cherry-Evans? The stats men tell us the Roosters’ half is somewhat more creative (11 try assists against five and eight line-break assists against three), but will he be ‘up’ for this match just five days after 80 minutes of Origin? 

Maroons bench utility Cherry-Evans will definitely be feeling fresher… and more positive about his football after Queensland’s dominant victory.

Where It Will Be Won: These two teams are two of the most clinical and effective teams in the NRL, especially in regards to their ‘D’. The Roosters and Sea Eagles concede 2.2 and 2.3 tries respectively, an average of just 13.2 and 13.7 points per game and just 1277 and 1301 metres per game, too. They’re great defensive records… but one team will have to crack here. Which will it be? (As a sidenote, both teams make uncannily similar errors each game too – the Roosters 10th with 10.5 and the Sea Eagles 11th with 10.6.)

The History: Played 121; Sea Eagles 79, Roosters 40, drawn 2. At Allianz Stadium, Manly still hold the upper hand – they’ve won 12 of the 18 clashes at the venue previously known as the ‘SFS’.

Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Gavin Morris; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Nick Beashel; Video Referees – Jared Maxwell & Justin Morgan. 

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

Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7pm.

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The Way We See It: With the possible late inclusion of Brett Stewart and with brother Glenn starting to find his feet after a lay-off, the Sea Eagles could prove a much tougher opposition than the team the Roosters beat in Round 9 earlier this season. Taking that into consideration – and the fact two of their most dangerous attacking threats are backing up from a deflating loss in Origin and another is unlikely to play – and we’re leaning towards the visitors here. Manly by six… but if Sonny Bill Williams plays another gem we’re not so sure!