Canterbury Bulldogs v Manly Sea Eagles
A re-match comes early this week: just a month after a gritty Bulldogs team outlasted an injury-hit Sea Eagles side at a rainy Brookvale Oval in Round 3, these two old rivals will be back at it – this time on the Homebush turf.
The Bulldogs could certainly use a repeat of that effort – their season was ticking along quite nicely until a dramatic final two minutes against the Rabbitohs two weeks ago which saw three props suspended, fullback Brett Morris suffer a long-term injury and two competition points sail out the window.
The depleted Dogs were soundly beaten by the resurgent Dragons last week and now sit in 10th, although they could so easily have been much higher on the ladder.
Coach Des Hasler has largely stuck with last week's side, again naming Josh Reynolds to start, this time with Moses Mbye on the bench, and with Tim Browne starting and Antonio Kaufusi reverting to an extended bench that also features Danny Fualalo and Herman Ese'ese.
Meanwhile it's desperate times already for the northern beaches club, enduring the equal third-worst start to a season in the club's almost-70-year history. Only twice (once in their debut season of 1947, the other in 1999) have they lost their first six games – 2015 is one of just six years they have gone 1-5.
The club certainly isn't panicking and has a huge in this week with captain Jamie Lyon named to return in the centres. It's doubly timely given their injury woes have hardly eased up; young-gun Tom Trbojevic has been ruled out with an ankle injury so Brayden Wiliame pushes from centre to wing. James Hasson comes on to the bench in place of the injured Jesse Sene-Lefao.
Watch out Bulldogs: Manly's all-international halves pairing may be copping more than their fair share of heat for the side's lowly ladder position but Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans trail only Roosters pair James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce for combined try assists in 2015. Cherry-Evans has laid on five tries and Foran four, and it doesn't look like they've got much out of second gear – and that's with Foran having missed a couple of games with a hamstring strain.
Watch out Sea Eagles: Ex-Cowboy Curtis Rona has proved to be something of an attacking weapon in 2015; his six line breaks is one behind competition leaders Marika Koroibete and Alex Johnston, and his six tries is one off Titans speedster James Roberts. With Brett Morris and Tim Lafai missing from the outside backs Rona could be something of a go-to man in attack. Regardless of whether he turns out to be marking makeshift winger Brayden Wiliame or Cheyse Blair – who has had some defensive lapses this year – he'll definitely liking his chances of crossing the stripe on Friday night.
Key Match-Up: Daly Cherry-Evans v Trent Hodkinson. Hodkinson was the man to make way from the Manly set-up when Cherry-Evans was on his way up into the top-grade side. The pair were opposing Origin halfbacks in Game II of the interstate series last year when Hodkinson helped the Blues to a drought-breaking series win with a solo try. 'Hodko' will be desperate to pick his form up to keep his name foremost in Laurie Daley's thoughts for this year, not to mention help his club side reverse a two-game losing streak. Cherry-Evans knows all eyes are on him in his last year at the club and will be just as desperate – if not more so – in his quest to snap a four-game losing streak for his side.
The History: Played 122; Bulldogs 54, Sea Eagles 63, Drawn 5. The Bulldogs have won the past three straight against Manly, and six of the past eight.
What Are The Odds: Bulldogs $1.80 v Sea Eagles $2.00. Sportsbet punters can't decide on the winner here. The money has been evenly split between the Sea Eagles and Bulldogs in head-to-head, line and margin betting. Bulldog Curtis Rona has been the best backed in the first try-scorer market.
Match Officials: Gavin Badger & Gavin Morris; touch judges: Nick Beashel & Brett Suttor; Video Referees: Bernard Sutton & Luke Phillips.
Televised: Channel Nine, Live, 7.30pm (NSW), Delayed, 9.30pm (QLD).
The Way We See It: A tough one to call with both sides desperate and neither at full strength. There is little home-ground advantage with Manly winning seven of their past 10 visits to ANZ. Lyon should make a huge difference to the visitors but this one is still very much a coin flip. We'll close our eyes and have a throw at the dart board... Bulldogs by four.