Schick Hydro Preview: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Wests Tigers
The high-flying Sea Eagles play host to the battling Wests Tigers on Sunday afternoon in a match they will no doubt be hoping consolidates their current top-four billing.
The Tigers meanwhile may be struggling in 15th on the ladder but have at least accrued four points in the past fortnight with a win over the last-placed Knights followed by a bye, having snapped a horror seven-game losing streak.
The 33-12 win in Newcastle was at times a bit frantic and at times a bit messy but they got the job done, halfback Luke Brooks had one of his best games of the year and the team will be hoping that, having got back into the winners' circle, it can kick-start some brighter performances over the final eight weeks of the season.
Coach Ivan Cleary has named fullback James Tedesco to back up from Wednesday night's Origin series decider for what, if he plays, will be his first club game since before Origin II when he rolled his ankle.
That sees Kev Naiqama return to the wing with Malakai Watene-Zelezniak dropping out. Chris Lawrence returns from a hamstring injury bumping Joel Edwards from the back row to the bench and Round 17 debutant Alex Twal to the reserves.
Manly actually broke a streak of their own last start, with a 16-8 loss at Penrith bringing an impressive five-game winning run to an end. That loss was very much a statistical outlier in terms of the possession and penalty count weighted against the Sea Eagles and coach Trent Barrett is unlikely to be too concerned about the game moving forward.
He has named an unchanged team aside from the return of Jake Trbojevic from Blues duty at lock, pushing Darcy Lussick to the bench and Brad Parker to the reserves list. Shaun Lane retains his starting spot in the continued absence of Curtis Sironen and Lewis Brown.
Why Sea Eagles can win: It's way past time we stopped thinking Manly are on a lucky run or likely to run out of steam midway through the season – they're in fourth after 18 rounds and that's no fluke. Arguably their most impressive facet this year has been defending their own try-line. Even all the way back in Round 1 when they lost to the Eels at home on the back of a horror possession rate against them they defended their line stoutly and did well not to concede more and it was the same story last week as the Panthers enjoyed 53 per cent of the ball, a 14-4 penalty count and seven more completed sets. To finish that game at two tries apiece (two conversions and two penalty goals made the difference) despite vastly fewer opportunities highlighted Manly's resilience in season 2017.
Why Wests Tigers can win: Standard of opposition notwithstanding, the Tigers' last-up win was notable for the efforts of their new(ish) halves pairing. Mid-season recruit Tui Lolohea has now had five games in black and gold but Round 17 was just his third alongside incumbent Luke Brooks and it was easily their best as a partnership. Lolohea contributed three line-break assists and a try assist while Brooks had two line breaks, a line-break assist and a try. They combined for 500 kick metres and arguably the most confidence-boosting stat for Tigers fans was Brooks's 177 running metres from a match-high 22 runs. A halfback who challenges the line is unquestionably more threat than one who does not.
 Telstra Premiership: Martin Taupau vs Aaron Woods
Tackles, All Run Metres, Offloads, Offloads.
The history: Played 23; Sea Eagles 14, Wests Tigers 9. The Tigers have won two of their past four, and five of their past 11 against Manly overall. Their record on the northern beaches however is troubling for Tigers fans: just one win (all the way back in 2003) from 10 visits to Lottoland.
What are the odds: Around 30 per cent more money has been placed on Wests Tigers in Sportsbet's head to head market due to the huge price available; 80 per cent of the money is with the Tigers in handicap betting, but the Sea Eagles have been backed to win 13-plus. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee: Tim Roby; Touch judges: Jason Walsh and Kasey Badger; Review Official: Ben Galea; Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live from 1.30pm.
NRL.com predicts: Despite some bright signs from the Tigers in their Round 17 win it's very tough to see anything other than a Manly win here. Sea Eagles by 14.