Manly Sea Eagles v Brisbane Broncos
Central Coast Stadium
Saturday 1 August 7.30pm
After sweeping aside the NRL's bottom-two ranked teams in the past fortnight, the Broncos will need to shift up another gear against the improving Sea Eagles.
Dead last at the conclusion of Round 16, the Sea Eagles have finally flown out of their wooden-spoon nest with three wins in four games and are still an outside chance of sneaking into the top eight.
Tuesday's announcement that coach and club legend Geoff Toovey won't be in charge next season finally put to bed rugby league's worst kept secret, with Trent Barrett named as his replacement for the next three years from 2016.
Although the writing had been on the wall for some time, now that Toovey's dismissal has become official the onus is on Manly's players to step up and prove they deserve to be at the proud club from next season onwards.
Regardless of their position on the ladder (11th), teams always tend to find that little bit extra when their coach has been given the boot and the Sea Eagles will be no exception, making Saturday night's game a danger match for the ladder-leading Broncos.
The Broncos are aiming for their ninth win in a row and recently demolished the Tigers and Titans by an aggregate score of 76-16.
In team changes, Manly forwards Tom Symonds, Ligi Sao and Luke Burgess are all out with knee injuries and are replaced by Justin Horo, Blake Leary and Jesse Sene-Lefao.
Adam Blair will miss the next two matches for Brisbane after taking an early guilty plea for a Grade 2 shoulder charge on Kane Elgey.
Jarrod Wallace will start in his place with Joe Ofahengaue coming onto the bench, while Jack Reed returns from a one-week suspension in the centres, with Jordan Kahu shifting to the wing forcing Corey Oates back on the bench.
Watch out Broncos: Josh McGuire's season-ending Achilles injury and the loss of Blair through suspension is a big blow to the Broncos' front-row stocks. Jarrod Wallace won't let anyone down as Blair's replacement but he'll have his work cut out trying to contain 21-year-old Manly prop Jake Trbojevic. The 185-centimetre, 106 kilogram wrecking ball made a whopping 238 metres and scored a try against the Warriors last weekend in an eye-catching 71-minute display.
Fellow bookends Josh Starling (179 metres) and Willie Mason (138 metres) also gained plenty of territory against the injured-depleted Warriors.
Watch out Sea Eagles: They've been compared to Broncos greats Allan Langer and Kevin Walters so it comes as little surprise that current halves Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford pose the greatest threat to the Silvertails.
Between them they've amassed 13 tries, 13 line breaks, 20 try assists, 22 line-break assists, 43 offloads and 94 tackle breaks this season without missing any of Brisbane's 18 games.
Both halves have been in scintillating form over the past two weeks with Milford already looking like an established No.6 despite only turning 21 earlier this month.
Key Match-Up: There's never a dull moment when Jamie Lyon and Jack Reed face each other. In the eight occasions where they've marked each other Reed has been schooled by the veteran centre during the majority of those matches.
However, Reed should gain confidence from his last outing against the Manly skipper in Round 13 after scoring one try and setting up two others, while making 128 metres including two line breaks.
The Lyon must be tamed if Brisbane are to stretch their unbeaten run to nine games.
The History: Played 40; Broncos 19, Sea Eagles 20, Draw 1. The Broncos have won two out of their last three matches against the Sea Eagles including the 44-10 thumping they dished out at Suncorp Stadium earlier this season.
Victory for Brisbane at Gosford's Central Coast Stadium will square the head-to-head ledger at 20 wins apiece with the majority of Manly's wins coming between 2007 and 2013 when the club won nine out of 11 meetings against the Broncos.
Coincidently, the last time Brisbane beat Manly twice in one season was during their premiership year of 2006.
Did You Know: The Broncos have only played in Gosford twice, winning on both occasions, against the Roosters in Round 6, 2011 and Northern Eagles in Round 26, 2001. Corey Parker is the only surviving member of Brisbane's squad to have played in the 2001 encounter which was won 42-14 by the visitors with Stuart Kelly and Wendell Sailor crossing for doubles. That match also marked the last of Geoff Toovey's 286-game career.
What Are The Odds: Sea Eagles $2.65 v Broncos $1.48. Brisbane has been very well supported in head to head, margin and also at the line according to Sportsbet. The money is running five to one with the Broncos and there has been more invested on them to win 13+ than on all of the other options. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Lead Referee: Gavin Badger; Assistant Referee: Chris James; Touch Judges: Steve Carrall and Rohan Best; Video Referees: Ashley Klein and Steve Folkes.
Televised: Fox Sports – 7.30pm.
The Way We See It: Despite holding the 'home' ground advantage, Manly isn't playing at Brookvale Oval – a ground the Broncos notoriously struggle at. Having been spared the trip to Brookey and its questionable playing surface, Brisbane's backline shouldn't have any qualms about throwing the ball about like they have in the previous two weeks. However, this game will be decided by defence and considering Brisbane has only leaked 24 points in their past three games, compared to Manly's 48, the Broncos should be able to clip the Sea Eagles' wings on the Central Coast. Broncos by 10.