Schick Hydro Preview: Canterbury Bulldogs v Manly Sea Eagles
It's last drinks at the last chance saloon for Manly's finals hopes this week after they hit a rather large speed bump at Parramatta last weekend, while the Bulldogs are hoping for a third-straight win to shore up their current top-four status.
Des Hasler's men have been getting the job done over the past fortnight without putting in the sort of performance that will have the rest of the top eight eyeing them nervously just yet.
Hasler has named an unchanged 17, with Lloyd Perrett and Kerrod Holland added to an extended bench. A win will guarantee they finished Round 23 in third or fourth, but a loss will give the Cowboys a chance to tip them out of the top four.
Manly simply must win to be any chance of featuring in September and coach Trent Barrett will be relieved to welcome back skipper Jamie Lyon at five-eighth in a move that pushes Dylan Walker to centre and Lewis Brown to the bench.
A forwards switch-up also sees Addin Fonua-Blake start at prop pushing Martin Taupau to the back row and Nathan Green to the bench.
Watch out Bulldogs: Manly looked a far better side in recent weeks with Jamie Lyon partnering Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves. While they scraped out a win over the lowly Knights in Lyon's absence they looked disorganised against the Eels. Lyon's return adds solidity and experience to the halves, allows Walker to revert to his preferred slot out wide and should ensure attacking young-gun Tom Trbojevic sees more quality ball than he did last week.
Watch out Sea Eagles: As always Canterbury's big pack will be a prime focus for the Sea Eagles and in particular Origin hard-man David Klemmer has been pumping out some huge numbers. 'Klem' has racked up almost 400 metres and seven tackle busts in his past two starts while out on the left flank Brett Morris has proved near unstoppable as well. Even when he's not scoring tries (seven four-pointers in six games since returning from injury) he's breaking through defenders (five tackle busts per game).
Key match-up: James Graham v Darcy Lussick. The Bulldogs skipper has been one of the best props in the world over the past few years whereas the Sea Eagles firebrand has been in and out of first grade at Manly and Parramatta over the same period. For whatever reason, Lussick has found career best form of late and has been arguably his team's best over the past six or so weeks. He made a huge impact against his old club Parramatta last Friday night and there has been plenty of sting in his hits and his runs of late. Graham is a different style of player with a game built on a huge work rate rather than burst of impact, as well as a good late pass at the line. Graham will need to soak up plenty of Lussick's early fire – along with that of fellow firebrand Addin Fonua-Blake – to ensure the Dogs don't play this one off the back foot.
The History: Played 124; Bulldogs 56, Sea Eagles 63, Drawn 5. The Dogs are on a five-match winning run against the boys from the beaches.
What are the odds: Eighty per cent of money is on the Bulldogs according to Sportsbet however Canterbury 1-12 is more popular than the Dogs 13+. Brett Morris has the best backed for first try scorer. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Ashley Klein. Assistant referee: Adam Gee. Sideline officials: Jeff Younis and Chris Sutton. Review officials: Ben Galea & Steve Chiddy. 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: Lyon's return is huge for Manly but it remains to be seen how they recover from last week's demoralising one-point loss. We'll tip the Bulldogs to find a way to get the job done as they have in recent weeks. Canterbury by six.