Schick Hydro Preview: Sydney Roosters v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Few could have predicted the Roosters - three-time defending minor premiers - would start 2016 with three straight losses.
They were almost joined by the Sea Eagles, who overturned an early eight-point deficit to record their first win in the Trent Barrett era.
The Roosters are coming off their worst loss under Trent Robinson, and are facing their worst start to a season since 2007.
A replay of the 2013 grand final could be the inspiration needed to resuscitate their ailing finals prospects.
The injury-hit Roosters left Townsville with Dale Copley (pec) and Ian Henderson (leg) joining a growing casualty ward. Brendan Elliot will play his first game of the season in the centres, while Eloni Vunakece is in line to make his NRL debut from the bench.
Manly will be without Martin Taupau who has been suspended for one week for his high shot on Jack Bird, while Brenton Lawrence also misses out through suspension. Jamie Buhrer has been named 18th man in what could be his return from a broken jaw.
Watch out Roosters: What has happened to the famed 'Bondi Wall'? The Roosters have been the best defensive team in the NRL since Trent Robinson took over in 2013, but have been a shade of their former selves three rounds into the new season. The Tricolours conceded just 300 points in 2015 at an average of 12.5 per game. They've given up 103 already this year at almost 34 points a game. Manly's attack has taken a while to gel, but the inclusion of Brett Stewart made a marked difference against the Sharks, and could be telling against a Roosters team that is leaking tries.
Watch out Sea Eagles: There are two statistics that should worry Manly leading into Saturday's clash, and they both have to do with the bounce-back factor. The last two teams to lose 40-0 both produced massive turnarounds. The Storm recovered from the 2008 grand final shellacking to beat the Dragons in Round 1, 2009, while the Titans suffered a narrow 20-18 loss in Round 3 last year after being thrashed by the Panthers the previous week. The Roosters will be keen to avenge last week's heavy loss, especially on their home turf. The other stat is the post-Cronulla factor. For whatever reason, teams have struggled the following week after having played the Sharks. Only seven teams in 2015 won the week after playing Cronulla, with the Cowboys already crumbling in 2016. Can Manly recover five days after beating the Sharks?
Key match-up: Jayden Nikorima v Dylan Walker. Two manufactured five-eighths will do battle at Allianz Stadium on Saturday in a head-to-head contest that could very well decide the match. Both players joined their respective teams in the off-season, and have taken a bit of time to settle. Nikorima was at his best against the Raiders, scoring a try and running the ball on both edges, but went missing in the heavy losses to Souths and North Queensland. Dylan Walker is coming off his best game for Manly, making more metres on Monday night (103) than he did in the first two games combined (85). Both men possess incredible speed and footwork, but their impact will come down to which forward pack wins the battle in the middle.
The history: Played 127; Roosters 44, Sea Eagles 81, Drawn 2. Manly has a dominant overall record, but the Roosters have won five of the past seven, including the 2013 grand final. The past two matches between the sides at Allianz have been won to nil, with the Roosters getting up 4-0 in 2013, and the Sea Eagles triumphing 8-0 the following year. The Roosters won their only meeting last year 46-10 with Brendan Elliot and Daniel Tupou both scoring hat-tricks.
What are the odds: All of the early money with Sportsbet was with the Roosters to cause the upset but the cash has been pouring in for the Sea Eagles following their victory over the Sharks and Manly are now solid favourites. Tom Trbojevic and Brett Stewart are the best backed in the first try-scorer market. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Grant Atkins. Assistant referee: Gavin Reynolds. Sideline officials: Clayton Sharpe and Nick Beashel.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 7:30pm (AEDT).
The way we see it: No side has ever won the competition having started the season 0-4. The Roosters only have to look to last year's Cowboys for inspiration, with the North Queenslanders recovering from three straight losses to eventually lift the trophy on the first Sunday in October. Unfortunately for the Roosters, they simply don't have the same attacking artillery, and against a vastly improved Manly side, look consigned to another loss. Manly by 10.