Schick Hydro Preview: Manly Sea Eagles v Penrith Panthers
Sunday, 4pm AEST
The battered Sea Eagles simply cannot catch a break when it comes to injury while over at Penrith the major casualties are coming at the selection table rather than physical misadventure.
Injury was added to insult last week when the Sea Eagles were comfortably disposed of by Canberra, making their task of eking out a much-needed win at home against Penrith this Sunday that much harder.
For the second time this year star half Daly Cherry-Evans is out medium-term with an ankle injury, and he is joined on the sidelines by the man who has joined him at the scumbase in recent weeks in skipper Jamie Lyon (hamstring, two weeks) and prop Brenton Lawrence (pec, season).
Centre Steve Matai (neck) and forward Marty Taupau (suspension) are still unavailable although coach Trent Barrett does get winger Jorge Taufua back from a collarbone injury.
Dylan Walker and Api Koroisau rekindle their halves partnership as a result of the fresh injuries while Addin Fonua-Blake and Blake Leary rejoin the top squad on the bench. Highly rated young forward Liam Knight could be in line for a possible debut after being named 18th man.
Penrith weren't terrible in going down 24-6 in Melbourne last week despite the unflattering scorecard but senior playmaker Jamie Soward has paid the price for a lacklustre outing, joining senior rake James Segeyaro in being cut by coach Anthony Griffin.
Under-20s sensation Nathan Cleary has been named to play his second NRL game after looking unflustered in his debut (including a remarkable 38-tackle effort in defence) and he will be guiding the ship around at Brooky after having ball-playing back-rower Bryce Cartwright named as his halves partner.
Prop Sam McKendry is also out suspended; debutant Moses Leota and former Tiger Sitaleki Akauaola are the new faces on the bench.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: Cleary has been tearing it up in the NYC this year, having notched some ridiculous numbers to put his case forward for an NRL debut. The table-topping Panthers haven't lost since going down to Canberra 36-34 in Round 1 with a season low of 24 points. In Rounds 9 and 10 Penrith scored 74 points in each game with halfback Cleary contributing three tries and 22 goals for 56 personal points. He is unsurprisingly the runaway top point scorer for the NYC season so far with 156 in 10 games. Obviously the NRL is a giant step up in every respect but the son of former coach Ivan Cleary has had 'next big thing' written all over him for a while and if he gets enough time in first grade we'll start to see the fruits of that sooner rather than later.
Watch Out Panthers: With Cherry-Evans absent someone's going to have to provide some spark in the halves and the man who filled in earlier in the year with aplomb, hooker Api Koroisau, showed what he was capable of last week. Playing out the second 40 with Cherry-Evans off, Koroisau showed great awareness to score off his own attacking grubber as Manly threatened a late comeback. Koroisau was a tackle-busting machine at halfback earlier in the year as he focused on his running game and, reunited in the halves with flatmate Dylan Walker, the pair will need to show plenty more spark to down Penrith.
Key match-up: Brett Stewart v Matt Moylan. A former NSW custodian facing off against a current one, there is no doubt each is a key man in carrying their side's hopes week to week and it's perhaps symptomatic of Manly's struggles this year that Stewart has also struggled to show the dominance he has in recent seasons. He made just 33 metres last week – unusual for someone in the key kick-returning position of fullback – and his attacking stats this year have been almost non-existent. Moylan himself has hardly been racking up the numbers – the two have just one try each in their eight games apiece – but Moylan's involvement has been greater. He has almost double as many support runs, with a 98-49 advantage and he has been far more creative, with a 7-1 advantage in try assists as well as a 7-1 advantage in line break assists. Stewart was one of the leading try creators in the competition just two seasons ago and badly needs to find form if Manly are to resurrect their season.
History: Played 81; Sea Eagles 50, Panthers 30, drawn 1. Despite poor historical records against Manly and especially at Brookvale, Penrith's recent efforts against the Silvertails haven't been too bad. They've beaten Manly in four of the past five meetings and won three of their past six visits to Brooky.
What are the odds: Sportsbet has found it difficult to find punters willing to back Manly, however there’s a touch of support for them receiving the start. Other than that, it’s all Penrith 13+ in the betting on this match. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Grant Atkins. Assistant Referee: Gavin Reynolds. Touch Judges: Jeff Younis and Phil Henderson. Review Officials: Matt Cecchin and Bryan Norrie. Senior RO: Ashley Klein.
Televised: Channel Nine – live coverage from 3.30pm. Fox Sports – live coverage from 3.30pm.
The way we see it: It's unusual for Penrith to travel to Brookvale as strong favourites; even moreso given they go in with a rookie halfback and makeshift five-eighth. But Manly's injury woes are severe and recent form underwhelming – enough for us to tip the visitors to get the job done by a narrow margin. Penrith by six.