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Roosters v Sea Eagles
Allianz Stadium
Saturday 7pm

After two brutal and low-scoring encounters already this year, expect one-versus-four this Saturday to be as physical as any match this year.

For those who need a refresher, Roosters enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves copped the year’s first send-off and a five-match suspension for a swinging arm on Manly’s George Rose back in Round 9.

And because the rugby league gods have an excellent sense of theatre, Waerea-Hargreaves’ first game back was against the Sea Eagles in Round 16. He wasn’t afraid to dish out the big hits in that one but probably the toughest collision of the night was between Manly’s James Hasson and Sydney’s Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, causing them both to sit out the second half with concussion.

Daniel Mortimer also played just seven minutes after suffering a concussion in what was one of the year’s toughest and most-physical matches to date.

In terms of a spectacle it’s disappointing that Waerea-Hargreaves won’t be back for a round three against the Sea Eagles this weekend but he has failed to convince the judiciary that his raised elbow on Rabbitoh Chris McQueen last week did not deserve to be adjudged simply careless.

It was about the only bad piece of news on the night for the Roosters, who turned around back-to-back losses with a tough finals-style win over the Rabbitohs to secure the minor premiership.

In further good news, Tuivasa-Sheck returns on the wing allowing Shaun Kenny-Dowall to shift in one place and spare Aiden Guerra from another stint in the centres. He moves back to the bench, along with Dylan Napa who has been displaced in the starting second row by Mitchell Aubusson’s return. Tinirau Arona drops out of the side. Luke O’Donnell and Marty Kennedy have both been added to the bench, with one likely to come in for JW-H who was originally named at prop.

For their part, Manly have been chugging along very nicely,(notwithstanding their hiccup against the Panthers last week while missing a raft of regular first-graders), and will have all three sides above them looking nervously over their shoulders.

Brett Stewart returns replacing Peta Hiku at fullback, and winger Jorge Taufua returns from his club-enforced suspension replacing last week’s debutant Clinton Gutherson. Anthony Watmough is back in the second row, pushing David Gower to the five-man bench, Brenton Lawrence is back at prop meaning George Rose goes back to the pine, and last week’s other debutant Jake Trbojevic exits the side.

Watch Out Roosters: Manly lost just one of nine games prior to last week’s match and were particularly impressive against the Storm in Round 25. And throughout that run their backline has been simply scintillating, with Stewart, Taufua, Jamie Lyon, Steve Matai and Dave Williams racking up 41 tries in those 10 games (and that’s not including tries scored by stand-ins such as Hiku and Gutherson).

In all, Manly’s backline has crossed for 85 tries this year – more than a whole eight clubs scored across their entire roster over 26 rounds! In fact Manly is the best scoring side over the second half of the season, averaging a league-best 30.6 points since the midway point of the season.

And although the Roosters have had their measure so far this year, nothing about this match should daunt Manly: they’ve won 10 of their past 12 finals fixtures at Allianz Stadium and have only once lost a finals match against the Roosters – all the way back in 1975. Speaking of finals, Manly’s ranks can claim 143 finals games – almost double the 75 finals matches experienced by Roosters players.

Watch Out Manly: Manly may be the in-form attacking side but they’re up against the season’s best defensively. The Roosters are experiencing their best defensive season since 1982, conceding just 13.5 points per game, and have held their opponents to a converted try or less in 29 of 48 halves this season.

Last week also saw a welcome return to form of not just the club overall but star buy Sonny Bill Williams, who terrorised the Rabbitohs last week with 214 running metres from 18 hit-ups including six tackle-breaks, a line bust and three offloads. That line-break also put Mitchell Pearce away for the match-clinching try. He’s been wonderful all year but this is the time of season the Roosters really need him to stand up and show why they brought him into the fold.

Plays To Watch: Anthony Watmough returns after a short layoff – he’s been one of the great angle-running back-rowers of recent years and by far Manly’s best metre-eating forward this year (126 metres per game). Expect a well-rested Watmough to lift in his 263rd game as he equals club legends Bob Fulton and Alan Thompson.

Another coming in rested is Tuivasa-Sheck, otherwise known as the man with the most scintillating footwork in the NRL. His flat-footed stop then go to breeze past Cronulla’s Todd Carney a fortnight ago simply has to be seen to be believed. Let’s see how Manly’s backline deals with those dazzling displays on Saturday.

Key Match-Up: Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran v Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney. Key match-ups take place across the park in this one but we can’t go past the battle of the halves.

One of the most dominant pairings of the past three years takes on what has been the form combo of 2013 – one that seems to be a match made in heaven in their first season alongside each other. It’s no surprise that Pearce and Maloney have clicked but it’s amazing how dominant they’ve been.

Meanwhile the Manly playmakers just keep keeping on – their 35 try assists combined (Foran 20, Cherry-Evans 15) beats all other halves combinations... other than their opponents this Saturday, who have 42 (Pearce 22, Maloney 20).

Where It Will Be Won: If you looks at the two previous encounters this year, they’ve both been low-scoring dogfights where the Roosters’ last-ditch defence has been more desperate while they’ve been better at taking their chances. Manly have shown recently they have plenty of points in them while other clubs have shown this season’s best defensive side can be cracked. If Manly allow the Roosters to boss them defensively they’ll struggle but if they take the attack to the Roosters early they have the blueprint to follow through.

The History: Played 122; Manly 79, Sydney Roosters 41, drawn 2. Manly have the better record at Allianz, winning 12 of 19 matches against the Roosters at the venue, where, as mentioned, they also have a strong finals record. The Sea Eagles were on a four-match winning run against the Roosters before losing two this year.

Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Ben Cummins & Gerard Sutton; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Luke Patten.

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

Televised: Channel 9 – Live 7pm.

The Way We See It: The Roosters probably deserve to start warm favourites after their dominant display last week but Waerea-Hargreaves is a big loss and the Sea Eagles are back at full strength. They’ve only ever once lost a finals match against the Roosters and only once lost to them three times in a season – both in 1975. We’ll tip finals experience to win out and the Sea Eagles to extract revenge for their earlier losses this season. Manly by four points.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.


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