Sea Eagles v Knights preview
Many Sea Eagles v Newcastle Knights
Brookvale Oval will reopen its gates for Sunday afternoon football, 51 days after last hosting a match to widespread criticism over the condition of the playing surface, for a clash between two sides desperate for a win.
Visiting will be the NRL's rollercoaster riders, the Newcastle Knights, who have fallen to four straight losses after blasting out of the blocks to open the season with four consecutive victories.
They'll be hoping their descent down the NRL ladder halts on Sunday afternoon against the Manly Sea Eagles, who, to the surprise of many, currently occupy the bottom rung of that ladder.
The Sea Eagles, who were last-start 12-10 victors over the high flying Melbourne Storm, will be without star five-eighth Kieran Foran who suffered a hamstring injury in New Zealand's Anzac Test victory.
He'll be out of action for several weeks adding to his team's disastrous run of injuries, with Jamie Lyon, who returns from an ankle injury, likely to fill the void in the halves.
Coach Geoff Toovey will have some decisions to make in regards to the final make-up of the rest of his backline after initially intending for Lyon to take the suspended Steve Matai's centre position.
In other changes, Jamie Buhrer, who suffered a torn ACL against the Storm, is replaced at lock by Dunamis Lui while Blake Leary is added to the bench.
Manly winger David 'Wolfman' Williams retains his position on the wing and will play his third NRL game since his 11 month lay-off.
Meanwhile for the Knights, who were edged by the Cowboys 26-24 in Round 8, Beau Scott returns to a familiar-looking Newcastle line-up after missing three games with an ankle ligament injury.
He moves into the second row, pushing Chris Houston to the bench.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: Manly have so far displayed the least attacking potency of any team in the NRL, racking up just 131 tackle breaks this season to rank last – 34 tackle breaks behind second last – while they are also sit last in line breaks with just 15. Meanwhile, thanks largely to some powerful outside backs, the Knights rank third in tackle breaks with 218 so far to go with 33 line breaks, despite boasting the fewest total runs (1317) in the competition. The Sea Eagles will have to aim up out wide on Sunday without hard-hitter Kieran Foran and against powerhouses such as Joey Leilua and Akuila Uate.
Watch Out Knights: Daly Cherry-Evans was once again at his mercurial best against the Storm in Round 8. He had a deciding hand in both Manly tries against a brick-wall Melbourne defence and returns to his home ground in sublime form. Without his right-hand man Foran beside him the attacking pressure will heap onto DCE for this one. That could be a danger sign for the Knights who will need to limit his time and space in attacking territory in order to minimise his attacking genius. Beau Scott, you're up.
Key Match-up: Brett Stewart v Kurt Gidley. Two experienced and classy fullbacks with points to prove go head-to-head at Brookie. After two weeks out with a groin complaint, Stewart's return against the Storm provided a much-needed boost to help his team to a tight victory. Now the 'King' of Brookvale, after breaking Steve Menzies' try-scoring record at the venue, Stewart will be keen to give his home crowd something to cheer about on Sunday. He'll be up against Newcastle hero Kurt Gidley who will be looking to bounce back after a lacklustre performance against the Cowboys. Gidley is a much better player than what he showed last start and, after signing to play in the English Super League mid-week, will be looking to show everyone what a great player he is in his final NRL season while keeping promising youngster Sione Mata'utia waiting on the bench.
History: Played 44; Sea Eagles 27; Knights 17. The Knights have won just two of their past nine against Manly and just two of 15 all time in matches at Brookvale.
What Are The Odds? Sea Eagles $1.50 v Knights $2.55: There have been three times as many individual bets on Newcastle as Manly, totalling 75 per cent of all the money invested on this game with Sportsbet. Despite this, Manly by 1-12 remains the most popular winning margin. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Adam Devcich. Assistant Referee: Gavin Reynolds. Touch Judges: Steve Carall and David Ryan. Video Referees: Steve Chiddy and Daniel Irvine.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm
How We See It: With two sides desperate for victory on Sunday this one could well and truly go either way. The Sea Eagles deserved early favouritism at home for this clash, but then Kieran Foran pulled out. He will be sorely missed in the halves once again on Sunday with much of Manly's early season woes resulting from his absence. The Knights are a tough team who were never as good as their four-win start to the season suggested, but by the same token are nowhere near as poor as their four straight losses will suggest. With the crucial addition of Beau Scott in the back-row the Knights should be slightly too strong for the Sea Eagles on Sunday, they'll win by one.