Tryscoring machines do battle
The two leading tryscorers in the NRL come face to face at Centrebet Stadium on Sunday – and Penrith winger David Simmons has done his homework in a bid to stop Newcastle winger James McManus from increasing his tally.
McManus, who scored a good, tough try for NSW in their 12-10 State of Origin III loss to Queensland, has touched down 16 times in 16 games in the NRL this season to be on top of the tryscoring table. Simmons is in second place, with 15 tries in 16 games.
Last weekend, while McManus was enjoying the Knights' second bye for the season, Simmons was scoring two tries for the Panthers in their 17-10 win over Parramatta, enabling him to really put the heat on in the tryscoring race. It was his sixth tryscoring double this season.
Simmons isn't looking at it as a battle between himself, McManus and anyone else who might be a contender for the title as the season's leading tryscorer. He is very much an example of the "team" ethos at Penrith this season.
The studying up he has done on McManus via the video this week is something he does on the opposition players he is most likely to come in contact with every week.
Right-side winger Simmons is more used to marking Akuila Uate when the Panthers play Newcastle, but these days Uate plays on the right wing, and McManus on the left.
"The last time we played them I marked McManus," Simmons said. "But it was a boring game that day, so not a lot happened directly between us. He scored from a scrum, but we didn't really see much of each other head-to-head.
"It was a pretty dull game, to be honest. I didn't learn a lot about him from playing against him that day. I'm not sure if I've played against him before that, but it's the only time I can remember playing against him.
"Each week, I look at the video to see how the opposing wingers and centres score tries. Usually, when a team scores a try, they stick to that sort of play, so I look at how they do it and try to get ready for it.
"Newcastle score plenty of tries off kicks, and through a good passing game that involves Darius Boyd getting involved from fullback. You've got to be pretty good to hold them out.
"They've got a really good kicking game, through Jarrod Mullen and Tyrone Roberts. I've got to be on top of that. And having Darius Boyd there, he's a good ball-player, so we've got to stop that too.
"McManus is a very strong, powerful winger. He's got good footwork and he can catch those cross-kicks. But if our team can stop their halves from making a big impact, you can stop good ball from getting to the players out wide."
As you would expect from two players who have scored so many tries this season, Simmons and McManus both come with very impressive statistics.
Simmons has run for more than 100 metres in 10 games, including a best of 226 in Penrith's 12-10 win over Melbourne, in Round 9. He has made 19 line-breaks and also has a lot of offloads for a winger, with 12.
McManus has run for more than 100 metres nine times, including a best of 196 against Penrith, in Round 6. Almost half of his total that day came when he stepped between defenders Sika Manu and Nigel Plum and raced 90 metres to score. It was the only line-break by anyone in the entire game.
Simmons ran for 145 metres in that game, but it was Manu who scored Penrith's try.
McManus has three tryscoring doubles this season, and he also has a four-try performance in Newcastle's 46-14 win over Gold Coast in Round 16 to go with that. He has made 14 line-breaks but no offloads.
Just as the Knights have a terrific kicking game to their wingers, Penrith halfback Luke Walsh may be the best in the NRL at putting the ball right into a winger's hands from his boot for a try. He did it perfectly for Simmons to score untouched against the Eels.
When it was suggested to him that maybe he should feel embarrassed at claiming that try when he only had to catch the ball and put it down with no-one near him, the affable Simmons laughed and said: "I'll take it. I don't think people realise how hard that is to do, for a kicker to be so accurate.
"Walshie is one of the best at it, and he practises it a lot. He works hard to make sure those kicks are on the money."
Sunday's game promises to be a good one for a number of reasons, not the least to see how Simmons and McManus fare against each other. They are go-to men, and in a potentially close game a try from one of them could make all the difference to the result.