Sea Eagles v Wests Tigers preview

Sea Eagles v Wests Tigers
Brookvale Oval
Friday 7.45 pm (AEST)

The Sea Eagles wandered into the Tigers’ suburban den last time these two teams met and copped a mauling for their troubles, and will be out to return the favour as they welcome the black and gold to their Brookvale fortress this Friday night.

Heading into that fateful clash at a waterlogged Leichhardt in Round 5 the Sea Eagles had dusted the premiers 8-0 on their own turf, but it mattered for nought as the Tigers’ young pack bared its teeth and sent them back over the Spit Bridge very sore and sorry and on the end of a 34-18 hiding, having at one point conceded 26 points in just over half an hour of play.

One of the few question marks that remain over Manly's premiership credentials is their ability to back up after a blockbuster performance, as is required to get a date to the big NRL ball on the first weekend of October. They missed a golden opportunity to do so when they were outgunned and out enthused by a Bulldogs outfit cobbled together by some rather large bits and pieces, one week after again blowing the Roosters off the park with one of the strongest displays seen this year. 

Blood won't exactly be boiling up there on the Northern Beaches considering the Sea Eagles sit second on the ladder by two measly for and against points, but nonetheless a touch of redemption will be on the cards as they back up from that disappointing loss last weekend against the side that gave them a thorough trouncing three months ago. 

For their part the Tigers have landed themselves in a bit of a hole since the heady early days of 2014 when they won five of their first seven games. And that hole is filling with water just as rapidly as their casualty ward, which currently hosts regular first graders Liam Fulton, James Tedesco, Tim Moltzen and Corey Paterson on long-term leases, as well as Braith Anasta, Tim Simona and Sauaso Sue for extended stays. 

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Whacked on top of this is the toughest run home in the competition, in which they play the Bulldogs twice, the premiers, resurgent Dragons, Melbourne and the Cowboys in Townsville over the next two months. With seven teams on 20 competition points locked firmly in a mid-table logjam, the Tigers sit at the back of the pack on points differential and desperately need a win to build momentum, lest they risk losing touch and fancy watching their finals hopes slip by the wayside.

They'll need a marked improvement on their limp showing against the Panthers last Sunday afternoon if they're to trouble one of the NRL's genuine heavyweights, and will be sweating on the availability of NSW stars Robbie Farah and Aaron Woods, whose absence over the Origin period has coincided with three losses to the Broncos, Rabbitohs and Panthers by an average margin of 13 points.

Manly have named Queenslander Daly Cherry-Evans pending Wednesday night's Origin, and also welcome back Jorge Taufua (ankle) and James Hasson (concussion) as they look to continue their recent dominance at Brookvale, where they haven't dropped a game in the eight outings since their golden point loss to the Storm in Round 1.

For the Tigers Mitchell Moses stays at fullback with Blake Austin to partner Luke Brooks in the halves, while James Gavet returns and Dene Halatau plays his 200th top flight game coming in for the suspended Bodene Thompson.

Watch Out Sea Eagles: They may have been suffering a hint of a hangover from that outstanding showing against the Roosters a fortnight ago, but Manly's big men were first rattled and then rolled by the Bulldogs, who admittedly did field an extra couple of forwards in the halves. When the Dogs turned up the heat with some bone crunching hits, they then found gaps close to the ruck big enough to drive a truck – or even James Graham – through for their first try of the night. The Tigers’ forwards have proved this year that they pack the punch if not the size to worry their opposite numbers, and in Blues enforcer Aaron Woods (140 metres per game), and Martin Taupau (whose 47 tackle breaks sits behind only George Burgess's 51 by a forward), the black and gold’s have more than enough in the aggression stakes to stick it to the home side again if they don't front up in the middle.

Watch Out Tigers: The Tigers’ defence against the Panthers was incredibly suspect, coming up with a whopping 51 missed tackles, with big boys Adam Blair (6 misses and 4 ineffective), Taupau (5), and Ava Seumanufagai (4) all guilty of some turnstile moments around the middle. Meanwhile out on their left edge Luke Brooks and Chris Lawrence (10 misses between them) had an afternoon to forget as Penrith repeatedly ran second-man plays at the pair to the tune of three four-pointers. Brett Stewart (15 try-assists and 13 line break assists) may have spent much of 2014 terrorising opposition defences over on the opposite edge, but given Brooks' struggles with the right-side shift of late, don't be surprised to see ‘The Snake’ lurking inside Jamie Lyon and Peta Hiku as he draws ever closer to Steve Menzies’ club try-scoring record at Brookvale Oval, with Stewart's 75 tries just short of the Beaver's 78 at Brookie for Manly (Menzies also scored another 10 for the Northern Eagles).

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Plays to Watch: Tigers cubs Mitch Moses and Luke Brooks may have only played 80 minutes in the top grade together, but they've had years to hone their combination in the junior ranks. Watch for a sneaky chip and chase from the pair, particularly with Moses getting another run at fullback.

As two of the game's elite, Kieran Foran and Stewart will be more than happy to show the youngsters how it's done. They have had form in recent weeks, linking against the Sharks for what would have been one of the tries of the season but for some errant hands from Steve Matai in support after an inch-perfect banana-kick from Foran found Stewart on the fly and in the clear.

Where It Will Be Won: Mick Potter has thus far managed to keep more of his hair than coaching counterpart Geoff Toovey, but that won't be the case too much longer if the Tigers keep it up with the coach killers. As well as 51 missed tackles, the Tigers also racked up 17 errors to thoroughly play themselves out of the contest with the Panthers, and if they repeat those kind of unwanted numbers Manly won't need to be asked twice to inflict some punishment. Their status as the competition's most ill-disciplined outfit (122 penalties conceded) will also need a clean-up against the NRL's least penalised side (Manly have only infringed 79 times in 2014). With the Sea Eagles having only lost once in nine outings at Brookvale this year, the Tigers cannot afford to give them any leg-up that could bring an always vocal Brookie crowd into play.

The History: Played 20; Sea Eagles 12, Tigers 8. The Tigers haven't been sighted around Brookvale Oval since 2009, and those on the Northern Beaches could be forgiven for thinking their boys had run them into extinction; the joint venture club has won only once at Brookvale – a 38-12 thumping 11 years ago – in their 15-year history.

What are the Odds: While both sides are coming off a loss, the home side are firm $1.26 favourites with Sportsbet.com.au. Punters are showing plenty of interest in the Sea Eagles, with a line of 10.5, while the Wests Tigers are clear $3.90 outsiders. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.

Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Alan Shortall; Touch Judges – Paul Holland & Nick Beashel;  Video Referees – Steve Chiddy & Luke Patten

Televised: Live, 7.45 Channel Nine

How We See It: Given the Sea Eagles return to the turf they know so well, where they've outscored their opponents by an average of 28 points to 14 so far this year, it's hard to see the Tigers bouncing back to their winning ways, even if Farah and Woods return to add class and firepower. Manly's exploitation of their shaky right edge defence looks inevitable, and the fact they have the Tigers outgunned in too many key positions has us saying Sea Eagles by 12.