Manly Sea Eagles v South Sydney Rabbitohs
Friday night football showcases one of the most interesting match-ups of this year's NRL season as the resurgent Sea Eagles host the premiership-defending Rabbitohs.
Another victory to Manly makes it five wins from their last six starts, placing them in the box seat for a startling top eight finish, having been threatened by the spoon just a few short weeks ago.
For the Bunnies, this game provides the chance to make it four on the trot, stamping their premiership credentials against a team that has sent shivers through the competition in recent weeks.
We've got two teams filled with big game experience, surging towards September expecting nothing less than to venture deep into finals footy. A monster Bunnies pack up against the NRL's classiest backline.
We've got Steve 'shoulders' Matai, who returns from concussion to once again terrorize a Bunnies team which he laid on one of the biggest hits of the season –on poor old David Tyrell – back in Round 16.
And just for a bit of spice on top, we'll see Glenn Stewart play at Brookvale Oval in opposition colours for the first time in his career, while going head to head with brother Brett for the second time.
This will be an absolute beauty on the northern beaches.
In team changes, Matai's return pushes Tom Trbojevic out of the team, a remarkable demotion considering his two try, 188 metre performance in Manly's 30-point win over Brisbane last week.
The Rabbitohs meanwhile are unchanged from the outfit that earned a tough victory over the Panthers with Jason Clark 18th man.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: If there's one weakness in the Manly team at the moment it's a lack of muscle and experience in their front row rotation. While Jake Trbojevic has been amazing in recent weeks, the Sea Eagles struggle to halt big, powerful packs for the full 80 minutes. And that is what they will face on Friday night, hardened and tough South Sydney props led by George Burgess. The big Englishman returned to form last week, breaking six tackles while running for 170 metres. He could have a huge impact on this one.
Watch Out Rabbitohs: The whole Sea Eagles team just keeps getting better every week, and they're hoping that last week's demolition of the ladder leaders won't be the climax of that run. The host of players that have reportedly been 'tapped on the shoulder' seem to have extra motivation to prove their doubters wrong, while the whole outfit is definitely lifting their game for Geoff Toovey. One pertinent example of resurgence is Feleti Mateo who wound back the clock with a stellar display last week, he had seven tackle breaks, 141 metres and a barnstorming try. He possesses all the tricks out on his attacking edge and will be in for another big one on Friday.
Key Match-Up: Kieran Foran v Luke Keary. These two classy playmakers will have the biggest impact towards the end result on Friday night. Foran has had an injury-affected season but had a brilliant all-round performance last week. Meanwhile Keary has played in all 19 Bunnies games to date and has been solid as a rock. Up against the NRL's best halves combination on Friday night, he'll have to step his game up another notch and will be given the opportunity to do so behind a pack that has the advantage through the middle. Meanwhile Foran will have the better pick of strike weapons to spread the ball out to. Whoever can utilise their advantages better, and manipulate their weakness, will go a long way to deciding victory here.
The History: Played 135; Sea Eagles 73, Rabbitohs 62. Last time these two met the Rabbitohs overcame the loss of Adam Reynolds to claim a 20-8 victory.
What Are The Odds: There’s only slightly more investment on the Rabbitohs which suggest that punters with Sportsbet are giving Manly a decent chance here. Both sides have been backed to win 1-12 rather than 13+. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton. Assistant Referee: Gavin Reynolds. Touch Judges: Brett Suttor and Adam Reid. Video Referees: Bernard Sutton and Luke Patten.
Televised: Channel Nine, Live 7:30pm
The Way We See It: This is a tough one to pick. Two form teams, South Sydney have been better throughout the course of the season while Manly are absolutely surging, but is the motivational fuel of club turmoil running low. The fact is if they play anything like they did last week they'll blow the Bunnies off the park. However, the Rabbitohs are tough, hardened and the season is coming towards crunch time, that's when this group plays their best footy. We think this will be one of the games of the season. We'll revert to the old adage of 'forwards win big matches' to tip a Souths victory here, they'll scrape through by four points.