Sea Eagles v Rabbitohs
Central Coast Stadium
Friday 7.40pm (AEDT)
Rugby league heads to the NSW Central Coast for the first time in 2014 for Members' Round, with the ‘home’ side - the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles - still stinging from one of the most amazing upsets in recent memory.
Last time they played: Watch highlights of the 2013 Manly v South Sydney preliminary final above
Last week they conceded the biggest ever turnaround at Brookvale Oval – never before have Manly given up a lead as big as the 20-point start that got run down by the Storm last Saturday night.
In their quest to make amends they’ll have to face off against the new competition favourites in South Sydney, who showed last week that any perceived disruption over their build-up and halves combinations wasn’t going to affect their form or concentration.
Manly, as good a side as they are, still look a sight less good when electric fullback Brett Stewart is off the field. Manly were 20-nil to the good during the time he was on the field and 23-2 in the hole during his time off it.
Stewart was involved in everything during the first 40, slotting into both Manly’s dominant right-edge combination and dangerous left-side attack with ease, but favouring the left on this occasion, setting up two tries for Steve Matai and one for Justin Horo with a brilliant short grubber.
His absence will be crucial but slightly alleviated by the return of David Williams, who takes one wing spot to allow Peta Hiku to move to fullback. Jason King returns from a shoulder injury on the bench, pushing Jesse Sene-Lafao to 18th man.
For the Rabbitohs, any perceived problems seem to have evaporated. Will Sam Burgess have his head screwed on straight now that he’s signed with English rugby from 2015? His Round 1 man-of-the-match award, which gave him a clear points decision over rival superstar Sonny Bill Williams, has answered that question.
Questions over whether captain John Sutton would be able to adapt to the extra hard yards required in the forwards were also answered in the affirmative, with the lock playing around three-quarters of the game, setting up a try and getting through plenty of defence.
And after the disappointment of losing five-eighth Luke Keary, questions over the Adam Reynolds–Dylan Walker combination were also put to rest. Reynolds controlled the game typically well, while Walker showed some sublime touches – a couple of short passes to a rampaging Chris McQueen down the left edge were possibly the highlight and he also ran the ball strongly.
The Rabbitohs have named an unchanged 19-man squad to the one named last week (Joel Reddy and Kyle Turner are again on an extended bench). Walker and McQueen both left the ground on crutches with ice on their ankles last week but have been named to start.
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Watch Out Sea Eagles: Fullback Greg Inglis took no time at all to put his stamp on the new season.
Looking as fit and strong as he ever has, the giant fullback destroyed the Roosters with three tries. His first, shrugging off four men close to the line and putting a giant fend on Roosters fullback Anthony Minichiello in the process, was arguably the most ominous.
Given he will likely continue to get good support from that monster forward pack and the playmakers in the middle, look out for more of the same from ‘GI’.
Watch Out Rabbitohs: Manly’s left and right edges both looked to have picked up where they left off from 2013.
Although the left edge in particular will take a hit from Brett Stewart’s absence, the return of David Williams on the right wing reunites the Daly Cherry-Evans–Jamie Lyon–Williams combination, and it’s arguably the most potent edge attack in the game. It generated one try to Cheyse Blair last week as well as a couple of line breaks and close calls.
Williams scored 20 tries last year and for Lyon it was 16 tries and 10 try assists. Lote Tuqiri, Bryson Goodwin and Dylan Walker will need to be on their toes.
Plays To Watch: Inglis charging up the middle looking to back up offloads from his giant forwards or for a quick play the ball to run at retreating defenders.
Manly to once again mix up their left and right side shifts, with Lyon’s flick pass out to Williams to come into play sooner rather than later.
Where It Will Be Won: Following on from that battle of the forwards, the ruck will again be crucial.
The games were much faster in the opening round than what they were last year and Rabbitohs like Issac Luke and Inglis are ideally suited to take advantage. Matt Ballin is a quality hooker, yet nowhere near as dynamic as Luke running from dummy-half.
For Manly, it will be critical that players like Anthony Watmough, Justin Horo and Glenn Stewart get racing through some hit-ups and quick-play the balls, and for guys like Williams to take some scoots from dummy-half, otherwise the ruck speed and momentum of the game will again heavily favour the cardinal and myrtle.
The History: Played 146; Sea Eagles 76, Rabbitohs 69, drawn 1. Manly have won six of the last 10 but Souths have won two of the three Gosford meetings, including the match last season.
What Are The Odds: Despite facing Manly, the Bunnies are all the rage with punters this week and are the best-backed side of every team to win in Round 2, according to Sportsbet.com.au. So much so, they’ve had double the money bet on them to win than any of the short-priced favourites going around in the other games. They’re into $1.48 in head-to-head betting with Manly easing to $2.65.
Match Officials: Referees - Shayne Hayne & Chris James; Sideline Officials - Jeff Younis & Jason Walsh; Video Referees - Bernard Sutton & Luke Patten.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (AEDT, NSW), Delayed 9.30pm (AEST, Queensland).
The Way We See It: With no Brett Stewart for Manly and remembering the way the Souths pack ran over the top of the Roosters, it’s tough to pick Manly in this one.
This is a club with incredible spirit that was in a grand final not long ago, so the Sea Eagles can’t ever be written off, but we’ll stick with the new competition favourites. Rabbitohs by 10.
*Statistics: Champion Data.
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