Raiders v Sea Eagles preview
Canberra Raiders v Manly Sea Eagles
Manly's astounding late charge to the NRL finals comes to the nation's capital for a meeting with a team that had their own hopes dashed with a disappointing loss on Monday night.
Will Manly march on? Or will their hot run be extinguished in the freezing cold of a Canberra afternoon?
Having won five of their last six, Manly will head into this one as favourites, their backline firing on all cylinders and their forward pack finally managing to dominate the middle third of the field.
But they'll take this clash for granted at their own peril, having lost their last clash against the Green Machine, and the severe drop in temperature they'll endure as they head down the highway.
With snow falling in Canberra throughout the week, the Sea Eagles will quickly find out they're a long way from the sunny northern beaches as they run out on GIO Stadium.
In team changes, the Raiders have lost centre Joey Leilua to a shoulder charge suspension.
Edrick Lee returns from his own suspension on the wing, with Sisa Waqa shifting into the centres to cover Leilua.
Meanwhile the Sea Eagles are also a man down following a shoulder charge, with Willie Mason missing the trip to the nation's capital.
In his place Josh Starling will start at prop, while Ligi Sao will return to the bench.
Watch Out Raiders: The Manly halves have finally been provided the platform and consistency they've been craving all year and they are absolutely thriving! After a slow start to the season, Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran have re-established themselves as without doubt the best halves pairing in the NRL. Between Round 1 and 16, the Sea Eagles averaged two tries, 1285 metres and 14 tackle busts per game. Now, off the back of a fit and firing halves pairing they're averaging, six tries, 1,612 metres and 22 busts per game. The Raiders defence should be very nervous.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: If there's one weakness in the Manly team it's still their front row rotation. On Sunday afternoon they come up against one of the NRL's toughest packs and a powerhouse front-rower that had an absolute field day against the Wests Tigers. Shannon Boyd scored two tries in a powerhouse display that should have the Willie Mason-less Manly worried. If you give the big pig farmer a head of steam near the line it's already too late – Manly will need to number up on him.
Key Match-Up: It's the Fijian flyer up against the Tongan tank as Sisa Waqa goes up against Jorge Taufua. Waqa has had a lackluster season to date for his new team as opposed to Taufua who's been in stellar form on the end of one of the NRL's classiest backlines. In four more games this year Waqa has 29 less tackle breaks, four less line breaks and five less tries than Taufua. He'll need to be better and bring some of his game-winning quality to this clash if the Raiders are to have a chance.
The History: Played 48; Raiders 18, Sea Eagles 29, Drawn 1. These two sides met back in Round 5 in Albury as the Raiders ran away 29-16 victors. Sam Williams and Blake Austin combined for the first time in the halves to steer the Green Machine to victory and condemn the Sea Eagles to their worst season start since 2009.
What Are The Odds: Manly have shortened from as much as $1.64 earlier in the week and Sportsbet reports the money is running 7:1 in favour of the Sea Eagles. Manly 13+ has been backed heavily as well. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assistant Referee: David Munro. Touch Judges: Michael Wise and Rick MacFarlane . Video Referees: Shayne Hayne and Luke Phillips.
Televised: Foxsports – Live from 2:00pm.
The Way We See It: Manly come marching in to Canberra looking to entrench themselves in the top eight while the Raiders seem to have far less to play for. They've done nothing at home this year to suggest they'll be a force to be reckoned with. Manly should be too keen and too good for them. They'll get the win by four.