Schick Preview: Manly Sea Eagles v Canterbury Bulldogs
Des Hasler returns to Brookvale once more as his Bulldogs take on a new-look Manly side when Friday night football kicks off for the first time in 2016.
Under new coach Trent Barrett the Sea Eagles are hardly recognisable, the team overhauled after last season's bottom-eight finish.
Martin Taupau, Dylan Walker, Nate Myles, Lewis Brown, Nathan Green and Apisai Koroisau will all make their debuts in the starting side for Manly. A seventh new face, Matt Parcell, has been named on the interchange.
The Bulldogs received terrible news on Tuesday morning when a simple arthroscopy on Brett Morris's knee turned into full blown surgery, meaning the NSW and Kangaroos representative is looking at four months on the sideline.
It means recruit Will Hopoate steps into the No.1 jumper for his first game as a Bulldog.
Otherwise it's all systems go for Des Hasler's men with the usual suspects named. Adam Elliott though will make his NRL debut on the bench in place of the suspended David Klemmer while Josh Morris will look to score his 100th career try.
Watch out Sea Eagles: Combinations are crucial. Any new-look team is going to have teething problems and quite frankly nobody will know what Manly are going to bring to the table in 2016 until Friday night. Their thumping trial victory over Ipswich will help but the NRL is a whole different ball game. Before they can start concentrating on the Bulldogs they'll need to concentrate on their own backyard.
Watch out Bulldogs: One of the Bulldogs' real strengths in recent years has been their giant forward pack, but how will they cope with the reduction in interchanges in the NRL in 2016? How the likes of Sam Kasiano and Greg Eastwood manage the workload with larger stints on the field is of most concern to the Dogs.
Key match-up: Apisai Koroisau v Michael Lichaa. Apisai Koroisau has won the race for the Sea Eagles No.9 jumper vacated by Matt Ballin, edging out Matt Parcell. Having overcome shoulder surgery, off-field dramas and personal tragedy over the off-season Koroisau will be looking to make the most of his fresh start on the Northern Beaches. Michael Lichaa is simply looking to bounce back from his good form displayed last year. While an ankle injury devastatingly ended his year early in 2015, the 22-year-old is out to prove he has what it takes to play every single minute for the Dogs in the season ahead.
The history: Played 123; Sea Eagles 63, Bulldogs 55, Drawn 5. The Sea Eagles have lost seven of their past nine games against the Bulldogs, including the last four straight. Recent history will throw a few extra degrees of difficulty on Barrett's first game in charge.
What are the odds: Sportsbet punters are predicting a close one at Brookvale with only slightly more dollars on Manly in head-to-head betting. There's been very little interest in either team winning 13-plus either so we could be in for a tight one if the money trail is to be believed. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton. Assistant Referee: Matt Noyen. Sideline Officials: Jason Walsh and Adam Reid.
Televised: Channel Nine (Live) – 7:30pm; Fox Sports 1 (Live) – 8pm.
The way we see it: With history and consistency on their side, the Bulldogs may prove all too much for the Sea Eagles' first outing under Barrett. Hasler will leave no stone unturned in an effort to sink his former team especially now he has a settled halves pairing to utilise in the grand scheme of the game. Bulldogs by six points.