Schick Hydro Preview: Parramatta Eels v Manly Sea Eagles
As the battered Eels slowly limp towards the finish line of a horror 2016 season, a rejuvenated Sea Eagles are keeping the dream alive on the back of four straight wins.
While early on in the season a resolute Parramatta was churning through wins on the back of an impregnable defence, a new-look and injury-ravaged Manly side was struggling badly for consistency and results.
The tides have turned since the Eels easily downed the Sea Eagles 22-10 back in Round 7 at Brookvale Oval. But after having their late 2015 finals charge effectively ended by Parramatta in Round 24 last year, Manly won't be taking the undermanned Eels lightly.
The blue and golds are also slightly less undermanned than they were a week ago with Origin centre Michael Jennings returning from a hamstring strain, captain Beau Scott also back and second-rower Manu Ma'u returning from a one-game suspension.
Kenny Edwards and Peni Terepo drop back to the bench, David Gower goes to 18th man and John Folau and Rory O'Brien drop out of the side.
With a bit of continuity finally coming into play for Manly over the past month, coach Trent Barrett has named an unchanged team to the one that downed Newcastle last week but added Nate Myles (knee) and Matt Parcell (hamstring) to each return from injury on an extended bench.
Watch out Eels: Young gun Tom Trbojevic just goes from strength to strength lately after taking over from injured veteran Brett Stewart at fullback. 'Turbo' was unstoppable during the first half against the Knights last week, finishing with match-highs in run metres (219), line breaks (two) and tackle breaks (six) while creating two tries.
Watch out Sea Eagles: The returns of Scott and Ma'u – allowing Edwards and Terepo to revert to their bench impact roles – makes this blue and gold forward pack look a lot punchier than it did against the Tigers last week. Both Ma'u and Edwards have had to fill in in the backline in recent weeks so having something close to their best available forward pack on deck will help Parramatta win the ground battle. With less strike in their backline compared to earlier in the year, making a statement up front is doubly vital.
Key match-up: Beau Scott v Jake Trbojevic. Two very different styles of lock here but both are critical to their team's hopes. Scott is rugged and old school, a brutal defender, and the ultimate competitor, while Trbojevic is… actually he's all of those things as well. As old school as a young bloke can be, one of – if not the – best low tacklers in the game, blessed with a huge motor and good footwork for a big man. Expect both these players – though at different ends of their careers – to throw themselves into everything on Friday night.
The History: Played 135; Eels 49, Sea Eagles 82, Drawn 4. A big historical advantage to the Sea Eagles but the Eels have won the past four straight meetings between these two clubs. Manly haven't won at Pirtek since 2013.
What are the odds: For every dollar invested on Parramatta, Sportsbet has received 15 for Manly, who have been the big firmers since markets opened. Manly 13+ is the most popular winning margin and the Sea Eagles have been well backed to cover the line as well. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assistant referee: Chris James. Sideline officials: Russell Turner and Nick Morel. Review officials: Jared Maxwell and Ben Galea. Senior review official: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel Nine - Live coverage from 7.30pm; Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 7.30pm.
The way we see it: Recent form and roster continuity has us leaning towards Manly to break their current four-game losing run against the blue and golds by 10 points.