Warriors v Sea Eagles
Mount Smart Stadium
Sunday 4pm (NZT)
Two of the competition’s form teams over the past two months clash on Sunday in a rivalry which has plenty of bitter undertones.
While Manly is probably the second-most supported NRL team in New Zealand, there are plenty who enjoy jeering them, given they have denied the Warriors a shot at glory twice in the past 10 years, including a defeat of the New Zealanders in the 2011 decider.
Manly lead the competition and are looking to secure their first minor premiership in 17 years, while the Warriors are seventh just trying to stay ahead in a pack of finals-crazed teams who trail closely behind.
After winning four straight games over the past month the Kiwi side was found wanting in the effort department in last Saturday’s 28-22 loss to the Broncos.
With only three losses to their name since way back in Round 7, the Warriors remain one of the competition’s most impressive forces and coach Andrew McFadden will have been working hard this week to make sure complacency stays out of their game for the final six regular season games.
With Ngani Laumape returning from suspension to replace rookie David Fusitu’a on the right wing, and veteran prop Sam Rapira returning from injury, the Warriors are at full strength.
Uncertainty remains around the availability of Feleti Mateo however, after the interchange forward left training with a lower leg injury on Tuesday.
The Sea Eagles confirmed their spot at the top of the table with a 21-12 win over the Dragons on Monday night, and continue to set the standard for the other 15 NRL clubs, despite missing one of their biggest stars in Glenn Stewart.
This week’s only change is James Hasson being included on the bench, but Manly will monitor Steve Matai, Dunamis Lui and Jorge Taufua who are all carrying knocks.
Watch Out Warriors: The New Zealand club got beaten last week despite dominating almost all of the critical statistics. Poor execution in attack and short concentration lapses in defence were the main culprits, as the Warriors failed to take advantage of having more possession, more sets and over 50 minutes inside the opposition’s half.
Manly are in fine form on the defensive front of late, and in their past six games have held teams to 16 points or less on all but one occasion [23 against the Bulldogs in Round 17], and across 2014 leak an average of only three tries per match. Daunting news for a Warriors side that couldn’t break down the Broncos when it counted last week.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: It is hard to argue with 100 per cent. The Warriors are 4/4 at Mount Smart Stadium this year and statistics show they are a much better team when they play there. Across 13 games away from their traditional home this season they have conceded an average of 23 points per match, compared with 12 while playing at Mount Smart. On the other side of the ball the effect of home advantage is just as obvious, with 33 points their average tally at the stadium in 2014.
They may have beaten the Dragons convincingly in the end, but the Sea Eagles were far from perfect last Monday. Had it not been for a dreadful Dragons’ right-edge defence, where the Sea Eagles earned 14 of their 21 points, St George-Illawarra might well have tasted victory given their dominance in several areas of the game. Manly were outrun by 1114 metres to 1086 and spent 25 minutes less in the opposition half than the Dragons did. Nine penalties conceded and 27 missed tackles are other stats which probably caused coach Toovey to lose some sleep this week.
Plays To Watch: The running games of both halfbacks mean attacking raids can start from anywhere on the park. From distance Daly Cherry-Evans and Shaun Johnson are dangerous, with the vision and speed to do damage when they get free.
Watch too for the impact of back-rowers Ben Henry and Tom Symonds, who make a habit of getting over the line with powerful running and intelligent lines. Both scored tries last week and love to sniff around the shoulders of their talented playmakers.
Where It Will Be Won: The key to winning will more than likely sit somewhere around the Warriors’ frail right-edge defence. A weak point all year, it has also been a favourite target for almost every side they have faced throughout the season. Johnson, Laumape and Konrad Hurrell will need to be at their best to contain a Sea Eagles’ left edge responsible for scoring three tries last week.
The History: Played 25; Eagles 17, Warriors 8. With just three wins from their past 15 meetings, the Warriors’ record against Manly is among their worst for any current NRL side. Although they experienced joy against the Sea Eagles just last year, prior to that the New Zealanders hadn’t beaten them since 2010. Having won on eight out of eleven occasions in Auckland, travelling to Mount Smart Stadium won’t hold much fear for Manly either.
What Are The Odds: According to Sportsbet, Manly are all the rage despite having to travel to New Zealand. More than twice the hold is with the Sea Eagles in the head to head market in what looks to be a contender for match of the round. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Chris James; Touch Judges – Brett Suttor & Nick Beashel; Video Referees – Bernard Sutton & Steve Folkes.
The Way We See It: The Warriors experienced a speed bump in their push towards the finals last week, going down to a Brisbane side who they conceded simply wanted it more. With an eight-day turnaround compared to Manly’s six, plus the travel factor for the Sea Eagles, the New Zealanders should be more refreshed and healthy come Sunday. If this game was played anywhere in the world except Mount Smart Stadium it would be tough to look past Manly, who sit atop the table with eight wins from their past 10 games. But the Warriors have proven there is no place like home and are sure to be determined to make up for a frustrating last-up performance. Warriors by four.