Schick Hydro Preview: Manly Sea Eagles v Parramatta Eels
The big drawcard here is the return of one-time prodigal son Kieran Foran to his old Brookvale stomping ground but the fact we have two sides in winning form who have been bitter rivals for a long time means there is no shortage of spice in what is always a hotly-contested battle.
The Eels are the shock defensive powerhouse of the NRL after six rounds with a season-low 65 points conceded in six games, while Manly look to be hitting form after a slow start despite the absence of Daly Cherry-Evans. Reserve hooker Api Koroisau has slotted in alongside old Souths teammate Dylan Walker in the halves to good effect, helping the side back up an unlucky loss to the Rabbitohs a fortnight ago with an impressive away win against the Warriors last week.
For the Eels, their previously stuttering attack roared into full force in a 36-6 win over the Raiders at home last week to signal they are a side for other teams to worry about this year.
With both sides coming off strong wins and no fresh injury or suspension worries, both coaches have named an unchanged line-up for a match that represents a five-day turnaround for both clubs.
Watch out Sea Eagles: That Parramatta left edge finally started to show what it was capable of against the Raiders with big-name recruit, Test centre Michael Jennings, having his best game of the year in a two-try effort. It was key man Corey Norman who orchestrated it though with the one-time Bronco continuing his sublime start to 2016 laying on both. Scarily for Manly, destructive left-edge winger Semi Radradra had almost nothing to do with the point scoring spree, suggesting the Eels may have more to offer than what they showed against the Raiders.
Watch out Eels: If Manly are to score enough points against the blue and gold defensive wall they're going to need a good outing from their rookie halves pairing and the key man here is former Souths premiership-winning hooker Koroisau filling in for the injured Cherry-Evans. Koroisau had a slow start to the year as he worked his way back from off-season shoulder surgery before eventually being demoted to reserve grade but he has stepped up admirably since his recall a fortnight ago. His 11 tackle breaks and three line breaks earned him the man of the match award in a losing side against Souths while last week his two try assists in a composed game against the Warriors proved vital.
Key match-up: Martin Taupau v Manu Ma'u. There's a whole lot of bustling knees and elbows involved when either of these hard-running Kiwi back-rowers take one of their furious edge runs and both are incredibly hard to stop once they wind up. There's not a lot between them stats-wise; Taupau makes 109 metres from 12 runs on average while for Ma'u it is 107 metres from 14 charges. Taupau is breaking more tackles (three per game versus 1.6) though Ma'u has nine offloads to Taupau's five. Ma'u has lifted his defensive game this year, making 32 tackles per week while Taupau is getting through 27.
The history: Played 134; Sea Eagles 82, Eels 48, Drawn 4. Manly have had the better of the Eels since both sides were admitted to the comp in 1947, and it's not even close. There is a glimmer of recent hope for the blue and golds, who have won the past three contests and their last visit to Brookvale where their overall record is poor (20 wins from 65 trips).
What are the odds: The money is flowing for the Eels at a rate of five to one with Sportsbet and most of it has gone on Parramatta to win by 13+ in margin betting. Michael Jennings has received more support in the first try scorer market than perennial favourite Semi Radradra. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Ben Cummins. Assistant referee: Adam Devcich. Sideline Officials: Nick Beashel and Jason Walsh. Review Officials: Steve Chiddy and Ben Galea. Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 6.30pm.
The way we see it: A fascinating battle looms here with the Eels getting their first semi-tough road trip after playing their first six games exclusively at Pirtek and ANZ Stadiums. Both teams are coming off a five-day turnaround though Manly's included a commute back from New Zealand whereas the Eels have yet to leave Sydney this year. The Eels have an advantage of a near enough to full strength roster while Manly are without their marquee halfback. With the Parramatta defence also proving very hard to penetrate, we’ll tip the visitors to get the job done – but it should be close.