Schick Hydro Preview: Manly Warringah Sea Eagles v Penrith Panthers
A classic rematch is set to go down to the wire one week after Manly Warringah ambushed the Penrith Panthers 28-12 to charge into the Telstra Premiership Finals Series.
While both clubs progressed to the playoffs after last week's clash there are no second chances this time around and as we all know finals football is a whole new ball game.
Manly head into the fixture with all the momentum on the back of last week's win, but a change of venue will help the Panthers' cause with Anthony Griffin's men no match for the strong Manly forward pack early in front of a vocal crowd at Lottoland in Round 26.
The Sea Eagles have found form at the right time of the year after overcoming a few hurdles in recent months, and have proved throughout the regular season they're more than capable of beating the heavyweights of the competition.
Penrith will draw on their form that saw them win seven straight games up until a fortnight ago, before back-to-back losses heading into the finals.
Both sides have named unchanged sides for the clash, with Manly's Darcy Lussick escaping suspension for a tripping charge at the judiciary on Tuesday night.
Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards (knee) is rated an outside chance of a return for the must-win encounter, while Matt Moylan's well-publicised off-field issues will see him miss the rest of the season.
Why the Sea Eagles can win: Manly targeted the Panthers' weakness of slow starts last week and they will be keen to start with a bang again. While the Panthers are strong at the backend of contests (read more below), their opening 20 minutes leave a lot to be desired. More often than not the Panthers are forced into playing catch-up football or grinding out a win, so Manly will be keen to build up a good lead early on. The Sea Eagles will back their attack once more led by a formidable spine – who rank second behind Melbourne for the most try assists in the Telstra Premiership. Trent Barrett's side complete more sets than anyone in the competition and if they can pile on some early points and defend with strong line speed once more they should prove too tough to handle.
Why the Panthers can win: They can draw on their final 20 minutes against the Sea Eagles last week – an area that has been their strongest in 2017 and better than any other side in the NRL. Penrith haven't let in a four-pointer after the 60th minute mark of a game since Round 20 against the Titans – an incredible statistic that signals their concentration and defence is at its best at the back end of a contest. They've conceded just nine tries in that period for the season to date while piling on 31 four-pointers in the final quarter of matches. If Griffin's men can start well, you would back them based of this alone to come home strong. In comparison the final 20 minutes of a game is the quietest for the Sea Eagles with 18 tries, while they've 27.
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Total Kicks, Line Break Assists, Try Assists, Tries.
The history: Played 85; Sea Eagles 51; Panthers 33; Drawn 1. Manly dominate the overall record between these teams but Penrith have had the wood on the Sea Eagles in recent times. Both outfits have beaten each other in the regular season in 2017. Penrith have won three of their last four games at Allianz Stadium – including their finals win over the Bulldogs last year. Likewise, the Sea Eagles' record at the venue is strong, winning 11 of their last 16 clashes including four on the trot.
Panthers winger Josh Mansour has scored seven tries in eight appearances against the Sea Eagles.
What are the odds: The money is coming in at a rate of six to one in favour of Manly, with twice the number of individual bets on the Sea Eagles according to Sportsbet. Penrith have been backed with the start, but that's about it. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton. Assistant referee: Adam Gee. Sideline officials: Chris Butler and Belinda Sleeman.
Televised: Channel 9 & Fox Sports 2 – Live coverage from 7:40pm.
NRL.com predicts: This shapes as a cracker. Make no mistake the Panthers will improve on last week's effort, but after a fortnight of defeats you get the feeling the end is near for them. It was a huge effort to motor home into the finals after a tough start to the year for Griffin's side, but Manly will feel confident heading into the clash and have enough finals experience in key positions to get them over the line. Sea Eagles by 2.