Eels v Sea Eagles preview
Parramatta Eels v Manly Sea Eagles
Well here we are, Round 1 of a new year and those bitter old foes, Manly and Parra, will resume hostilities in Sydney's west in a massive Friday night clash.
Seriously, you wouldn't find more subplots, intrigue and shock twists in a series of Days of Our Lives guest-written by William Shakespeare and directed by M Night Shyamalan. This one is set to be more explosive than a trilogy of Michael Bay movies and easily a thousand times more entertaining.
We've got the former northern beaches golden boy, Manly premiership-winner Anthony Watmough, lighting the fuse and setting fire to plenty of bridges in the process by torching his old club in a series of inflammatory media appearances.
We've got Manly's former assistant clipboard-holder – but a man who's bled blue and gold from childhood – in Brad Arthur now in charge of the Eels. There are even suggestions Manly are keen on luring him back, creating an even greater level of interest in the head-to-head contest between the two coaches.
On Arthur's roster he has not just Watmough but former maroon-and-white prodigy Will Hopoate, and ex-Sea Eagles Darcy Lussick, David Gower and Richie Fa'aoso. Manly also have their share of ex-Eels in their current squad to go with plenty more back over the years.
And the big one: Manly's star five-eighth, Kiwi Test pivot Kieran Foran, who, depending on what day you pick up the paper, may or may not be wearing blue and gold from 2016 in what would be a massive coup for the Eels and a bitter blow for Manly. Has he already decided his future? What will be going through his head when he runs out on what may prove to be his home ground from next year?
What else would you rather be doing on a Friday night than watching these two old-school rivals go at it? Welcome back, rugby league, we've missed you.
On the teams front, the Eels enter their post-Jarryd Hayne era with Hopoate at fullback, club debutants Reece Robinson on the right flank, Brad Takairangi and Beau Champion in the centres and Watmough at lock. Nathan Peats is back from injury at hooker pushing Isaac De Gois to the bench.
Manly have a few early-season injury concerns with prop Josh Starling set to miss a month and freshly re-signed centre Steve Matai also missing, with Clint Gutherson to start in the centres. Jorge Taufua will miss 1-2 months handing Cheyse Blair a wing spot. Jamie Lyon, Tom Symonds and Brenton Lawrence have all been named despite injury clouds. Willie Mason (prop) and Feleti Mateo (second row) each start in their club debuts while new signings Luke Burgess and Blake Leary also make their club debuts off the bench.
Watch out Eels: Mercurial Manly fullback Brett Stewart may be known as the 'Prince of Brookvale' but he's not just a home patch bully. He notched more try assists last year than any player outside of regular halves, and fourth overall behind Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and James Maloney, with 21 assists in 22 games.
Watch out Sea Eagles: Maligned halfback Chris Sandow looked incredibly dangerous at the recent Auckland Nines. He looked as fit as he'd ever been and repeatedly pulled off crucial long kicks when his side needed them. That long boot saw him notch more than double the amount of successful 40/20 kicks by any player last season (seven, next best Adam Reynolds with three) and he had a few more near-misses, a couple of which earned his side the ball back. He's also in a contract year and if the pieces fall into place his boot could prove the difference.
Key Match-Up: Anthony Watmough v Manly. Say what you will about 'Choc' but the bloke knows how to generate some interest, and for that our hats go off to him. In the past few months he's waxed lyrical on how unhappy he was last year at Manly and questioned his former coach Geoff Toovey's leadership. No doubt the smattering of Manly fans in the away supporters bay will be letting him have it and he'll be loving every second of it.
The History: Played 131; Eels 46, Sea Eagles 81, Drawn 4. The northern beaches boys have had the wood over the blue-and-golds over the years. The past eight games at Parramatta are split four apiece but Manly have six of the past eight overall.
What Are The Odds: Eels $1.95, Sea Eagles $1.85. Manly may be slightly favoured in the betting but the Eels have received double the amount of money. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Matt Cecchin & Henry Perenara; touch judges: Brett Suttor & Nick Beashel; Video Referees: Bernard Sutton & Luke Patten.
Televised: Channel Nine, Live, 7.30pm.
The Way We See It: This is one of the toughest matches of the round to call. Injuries to a couple of key players brings Manly back to the field just a little bit but in turn, the Eels may take some time to adjust to the post-Hayne era. On that basis we'll hesitantly tip Manly but both sides have significantly different rosters so whoever adapts to their new systems the quickest could take this one.