Manly Sea Eagles v Canberra Raiders
Rugby league heads to the country – specifically Albury's Lavington Park, just a few kilometres from the Victorian border – as two teams desperate for their second win of the season face off.
Canberra are on a three-match losing run since upsetting Cronulla at Remondis Stadium in their opening game of the season, meanwhile Manly have just a gritty home win against Melbourne to show for their efforts in a tough opening month punctuated by injury after injury to key players.
It doesn't get much better this week with news that prop Josh Starling's comeback from injury is over after just one game as he joins fellow bookend Brenton Lawrence (back) in the casualty ward, along with skipper (and crucially, the team's lone goal-kicker) Jamie Lyon (groin). Centre Steve Matai is back to replace Lyon but he himself faces a fitness test on his shoulder and remains in doubt.
Ball playing forward Feleti Mateo (ankle) is also out; Tom Symonds starts for him with Ligi Sao, Justin Horo and James Hasson all added to an extended bench.
Their opponents are largely injury-free – their only change from the huge loss to the Roosters is the dumping of promising halfback Mitch Cornish for the more experienced Sam Williams.
Watch out Sea Eagles: Livewire former Tiger and Panther Blake Austin is never short on energy and effort and the Raiders may need him to spark something if they want to bag a few tries against the Sea Eagles. Austin's running game is one of his strengths; his 13 tackle breaks in four games is more than any other half or five-eighth and his 90 metres per game is second among playmakers behind only Warrior Chad Townsend (114 per game). He has three line breaks and a try over the opening month of footy.
Watch out Raiders: In what has been a poor start to the season, Manly's shining light has been the form of Gold Coast-bound halfback Daly Cherry-Evans, whose burst of three try assists in seven minutes set up the team's only win – against Melbourne in Round 2 – and his five overall is equal first along with Rabbitoh Adam Reynolds and Eel Corey Norman. Given those two clubs are in the top three of the competition for total points and Manly are 13th it shows a huge proportion of their attack is based on what their No.7 is producing.
Key Match-Up: Brett Stewart v Jack Wighton. A former NSW fullback is named opposite a possible future one, and both have dangerous running games and great match awareness. Wighton was unstoppable against Cronulla in his side's only win this year but a fractured eye socket has dulled his effectiveness since – although he should be getting back to his best by now. At the other end of the experience scale, Manly veteran Brett Stewart already has three tries and a try assist this year after being his club's best when it came to setting up tries in 2014.
The History: Played 47; Sea Eagles 29, Raiders 17, Drawn 1. Manly hardly notched a win over the Green Machine between 1989 and 2004, but before and after that era of Canberra dominance it's been all Manly, who have won nine of their past 10 against Canberra.
What Are The Odds: Sea Eagles ($1.30) v Raiders ($3.30). Sportsbet punters expect Manly to get back on the winners list this weekend with two thirds of the money invested in head to head betting going on the Sea Eagles. Three quarters of the cash has been splashed on the Sea Eagles to win by 13 points or more in margin betting as well. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Gavin Badger. Assistant Referee Chris Sutton. Touch judges: Rick MacFarlane and David Ryan. Video Referees: Steve Clark and Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports, Live, 5pm AEDT.
The Way We See It: Quite a tough one to call – Canberra were woeful last week against the Roosters but the injury-ravaged Sea Eagles weren't much better against the Dragons, and tend to struggle mightily without captain and goal kicker Jamie Lyon – and they also tend to score in fours rather than sixes when he's not there to add the extras. Whichever team goes 1-4 after this game will really start to lose touch with the top sides so with the pressure on we'll tip Manly to find a way – but only just.