Sea Eagles v Warriors preview

Sea Eagles v Warriors
Bluetongue Stadium
Sunday, 2pm

A weekend full of NRL blockbusters sees one of the best taking place at Gosford’s Bluetongue Stadium as in-form Manly host the rejuvenated Warriors this Sunday afternoon.

The Warriors might still be battling to secure a finals berth after a horrible start to the year but few sides have been as impressive over the past month as the boys from Auckland. Few, that is, except Manly.

With five wins in a row, the Sea Eagles have run into top form at the right time of year with the return of fullback Brett Stewart seemingly the catalyst for their impressive run.

They have scored a whopping 198 points in those five games – having surpassed 30 points in all of them – and although the five-points gap between them and competition leaders Souths and Sydney Roosters might be too far to bridge, they will certainly have them looking over their shoulders.

Injuries have made life difficult for the Sea Eagles at times this season but after a mid-season lull they are welcoming back players at the right time of year.

Nevertheless, as confident as they are Manly won’t have forgotten the 18-16 loss they suffered at the hands of the Warriors in Round 13 after leading 12-0 early on.

That game played a key role in the Warriors’ resurgence this season, proving to them and coach Matthew Elliott that they have the arsenal to match it with the big guns.

Since their embarrassing 62-6 loss to Penrith in Round 10, the Warriors have won seven of nine games to put themselves within touch of the top eight although last week’s 18-14 loss to Cronulla was an untimely setback.

Still sitting one competition point behind eighth-placed Newcastle, they are a side that could potentially cause problems for their more-fancied rivals should they reach the finals but are at a point where every result is now critical.

Although their run home isn’t terrible with games against Penrith, the Gold Coast, Canberra and St George Illawarra to come, a win over Manly this week would be huge in the context of their season.

Manly have named the same 17 that belted Parramatta last weekend, while Warriors coach Matt Elliott has tweaked his side slightly: Ben Matulino moves into the starting side and Jacob Lillyman drops to the bench.

The Warriors haven’t played at Bluetongue Stadium since 2001 while Manly have won nine of their 11 games played there – scoring an average 31.5 points per game. They require just two more tries to make it 100 all-time against the Warriors.

Watch Out Sea Eagles: Manly’s left centre Steve Matai is renowned as an enforcer and loves stamping his authority on opponents, but if there is one man who can turn the tables on him it is his opposite number this week, Konrad Hurrell. The Warriors powerhouse has been just about unstoppable this season with his brutal runs leaving any number of defenders sprawled in his wake. His solo try against South Sydney in Round 17 was one of the best of the year as he steamrolled three players including Greg Inglis on his way to the try line.

Watch Out Warriors: While Hurrell is a handful with the ball in hand, he can also expect plenty of traffic coming his way this week. Manly’s left edge has been lethal with the ball in hand in 2013 with Matai, Justin Horo and Jorge Taufua combining for 35 tries between them. Taufua in particular has enjoyed a wonderful year with 16 tries, 81 tackle-breaks and 143 metres per game.

Plays To Watch: The Kieran Foran short ball to lead-runner Justin Horo on the left edge. Manly will almost always set up for the second-man play when attacking on the left with Brett Stewart sweeping around to create the extra man; however they have had great success this season when Foran gives the ball to Horo instead. Watch for Warriors half Shaun Johnson to create one-on-one situations where he can use his footwork to skip past a defender and throw a cut-out pass to his unmarked winger.

Key Match-Up: Daly Cherry-Evans v Shaun Johnson. What a thrilling clash this one promises to be! Manly halfback Cherry-Evans has been brilliant this season – running the side’s right-edge attack with aplomb and demonstrating a lethal running game that has caught plenty of sides napping. Johnson is also dangerous when running the ball although it is his fast feet and extreme speed off the mark that are his traits. Both are genuine match-winners.

Where It Will Be Won: In the forwards. Okay, so we know that technically every win starts in the middle but sometimes the battle takes on epic proportions. This week’s clash is just that. Manly’s big men have been superb of late thanks to the experience of Anthony Watmough, Glenn Stewart, Brent Kite and co. while the Warriors are famous for their physicality up front.

The History: Played 24; Sea Eagles 16, Warriors 8. Manly have won six of their past seven clashes against the Warriors, although they lost their most recent clash earlier this year. Only once before have the Warriors beaten the Sea Eagles twice in a year – way back in 2003.

Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Gavin Morris; Sideline Officials – Adam Reid & Dave Munro; Video Referees – Henry Perenara & Matt Rodwell.

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 Sea Eagles v Warriors clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.

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Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 2pm.

The Way We See It: One of a number of thrilling match-ups this weekend could go either way, although with Manly continuing on their merry way last week and the Warriors falling to Cronulla it is hard to go against the Sea Eagles. They are one of the form teams of the competition and have the luxury of not having to travel anywhere near as far. Sea Eagles by 10 points.

*Statistics: NRL Stats.