Sea Eagles v Roosters
This tantalising Grand Final rematch-rematch and resumption of the 'Angry Birds Cup' sees the defending premiers head north over the Spit Bridge looking to avenge their shock 8-0 loss at Allianz Stadium back in Round 4.
The Chooks did get the better of the Sea Eagles four times from four in 2013, including the one that counted most on the first Sunday in October, but that's all behind us now as we look ahead to this top-four clash.
Both sides head into this week in good form and reasonably close to full strength. It's hard to know how much to read into Manly's 26-0 disposal of the hapless Sharks last week but their previous game (which was in Round 13, before their second bye) was a clinical 32-10 dismissal of a full-strength Bulldogs outfit at Brookvale.
Only Glenn Stewart, who is still on his way back from ankle surgery, and the suspended Anthony Watmough are unavailable from Manly's best 17, and Geoff Toovey has opted for the same squad that lapped the Sharks last week, although Jamie Buhrer and Dunamis Lui switch, with Lui going to lock and Buhrer to second row. Given Manly continued racking up wins with the likes of Daly Cherry-Evans, Kieran Foran, Brett Stewart and Jamie Lyon out injured it's still a formidable-looking side even with two Test back-rowers sitting out.
As ladder leaders and one of just two teams, along with the Panthers, on 22 competition points, it's important for Manly to chalk up one more home win before their glut of away games (seven of their last 10 away from Brookvale) kicks off with a trip to ANZ against the Bulldogs next week.
The Roosters are in a similar boat, racing up to fourth on the ladder just a win behind Manly on the back of four straight victories. They'll be well rested after their Round 15 bye, which followed big wins over the Knights and Storm in the previous two weeks. With Test back-rower Boyd Cordner returning from an ankle injury on the bench, Origin centre Michael Jennings (elbow) is the only notable absentee from their top 17.
He was missing from their last game, in Round 14, due to Origin commitments – meaning Mitch Aubusson stays in the centres, although Dan Tupou returns on the wing, displacing Nene McDonald. Aidan Guerra also returns from Origin pushing Dylan Napa to a five-man bench with Willis Meehan dropping off. Hooker Heath L'Estrange is named on the bench for the first time, in jersey 18, with utility Dan Mortimer having packed his bags and moved to the Gold Coast.
Unlike Manly, the Roosters have a fair run home with six of nine at Moore Park and a bye still up their sleeve. A win here, with a home match against the poor old Sharkies next week followed by a bye, could help the Roosters make a serious charge up towards top spot on the ladder.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: The Roosters are one of the most dangerous ball-running sides in the competition, having broken 409 tackles so far this season (third most) while they have easily the most line breaks of any side. Their 82 line breaks in 14 games is well clear of the second-placed Eels (74). The danger men here, not surprisingly, are their halves. James Maloney has the equal-most line break assists in the competition with 16, and is just one ahead of his halves partner Mitchell Pearce, who has 15. The recipients have been their classy back three, with wingers Daniel Tupou and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (both 12) and fullback Anthony Minichiello (10) all in the 10 best players in the competition for line breaks this year.
Watch Out Roosters: While we're on line breaks, Manly centre Steve Matai is the outright competition leader, with 14, and he's equal second when it comes to tries, with 11 four-pointers in 13 games. His outside man Jorge Taufua is racking them up too, with seven tries in his eight games. That left edge has been the go-to zone for Manly this year with dramatic effectiveness. Maybe it's because right-side specialist Glenn Stewart has been missing for most of the season, maybe it's because his in-form brother, fullback Brett (a staggering 14 try assists in 10 games) has been favouring the left, but for whatever reason, that zone has been devastating for Manly this year so the Roosters' right-edge pair of Tuivasa-Sheck and Shaun Kenny-Dowall will need to bring their defensive games.
Plays To Watch: Brett Stewart gliding into the above-mentioned formation with a cheeky grubber when he spots the opposition short at the back; the Roosters to make excellent use of decoy runners and second-man plays to give their halves a confusing array of ball-runners to send through half-gaps; Jamie Lyon to prove why the Sea Eagles shouldn't neglect their right-side attack with his effective draw-and-flick-pass; the Roosters' ex-Origin halves to show the incumbents exactly how you send towering 6'5" winger Dan Tupou on an aerial raid with some well-placed cross-field bombs.
Where It Will Be Won: Discipline. The Roosters, as we've come to expect, are one of the most penalised teams in the competition – their 107 infringements is third-worst in the competition behind Wests Tigers (111) and Gold Coast (109) while Manly, at just 70, have felt the referees' wrath fewer times than any other side. Given this match will be at Brooky, with a partisan home crowd just metres away to loudly remind the refs any time they feel the visitors are inside the 10, the Roosters can't expect any leg-ups and will be on the back foot quickly if they can't control their discipline. In particular, Jared Warea-Hargreaves (15 penalties conceded, equal-most) and Jake Friend (14 penalties, equal third most) have been too sloppy around the ruck and will need to tighten it up here.
The History: Played 134; Sea Eagles 85, Roosters 47; drawn 2. These two sides seem to go on some peculiar streaks – before Manly's Round 4 win the Chooks had won four straight. The previous four were split two apiece but before that it was Manly with six in a row, the Roosters won five of six before that, Manly five straight before that. Read into that what you will but with Manly having almost a two-to-one advantage overall and a close to 80 per cent advantage over the Tricolours at Brookvale the history is certainly on their side.
What Are The Odds: Punters at Sportsbet.com.au can’t split the two teams with money running 50:50 in the head-to-head market. Better support though for the Roosters in line betting, getting 1.5 start. For latest odds and betting options go to Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Gavin Morris; Touch Judges – Russell Turner & Brett Suttor; Video Referees – Bernard Sutton & Luke Patten.
Televised: Channel Nine, Live, 7.30pm (NSW); Channel Nine, Delayed, 9.30pm (Qld).
The Way We See It: A real mouth-watering clash of flying feathers, this is a tough one to pick. The Roosters will be well-rested after the bye, which may help or hinder them, although aside from Origin halfback Cherry-Evans the rest of the Manly squad had a week off prior to the low-intensity game against the Sharks. The home ground advantage may tip the scales slightly towards the northern beaches boys but we'll take the defending premiers to make it five in a row with a tight win. Roosters by two points.