Sea Eagles v Tigers: Gosiewski rewarded; Reynolds off bench
Hands up who had the Tigers in the top four after five rounds? Besides their army of loyal fans, not many rugby league neutrals.
Ivan Cleary has done a terrific job inspiring his Wests Tigers troops and they face another litmus test when they travel to the northern beaches to take on Trent Barrett's Manly Sea Eagles, who love playing on home soil, especially on a picturesque Sunday afternoon.
The key match-up: Daly Cherry-Evans v Luke Brooks. Manly's halfback and captain has hit the ground running in 2018 as he looks to push his claims to be Queensland's new number seven in Origin following the retirement of Cooper Cronk from the representative arena. Brooks is also playing like a man inspired, finally appearing to live up to his potential following his NRL debut back in 2013.
For the Sea Eagles to win: Capitalise on early momentum. The Sea Eagles have been brilliant in their two outings at home, belting Parramatta (54-0) and Canberra (32-16). On both occasions they were rampant in attack after their opposition were slow out of the blocks. A repeat scenario would be heaven for fans decked out in maroon and white.
For the Tigers to win: Get into the grind. Their defence has been nothing short of outstanding across the first few rounds, with their desire to compete for 80 minutes remarkable. If they can contain Cherry-Evans and the Trbojevic brothers, Jake and Tom, a fifth win in six rounds is likely.
Sea Eagles Stat Attack: Tom Trbojevic (5) sits behind only Bulldogs fullback Moses Mbye (6) when it comes to the most line breaks in the competition. Rising centre Brian Kelly (4) has also found open space with ease.
Tigers Stat Attack: Underrated centre Esan Marsters has managed 19 offloads, trailing only Manly prop Marty Taupau (20) in the NRL. Marsters continues to prove each week he belongs in the NRL.
And another thing: Look for Michael Chee-Kam to have a big game for the Tigers. Injuries stalled his progress when on the books of the Sea Eagles, but he hasn't missed a beat after Cleary backed the utility in pre-season.
Prediction: Sea Eagles by 10
Match: Sea Eagles vs Wests Tigers
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Manly Warringah Sea Eagles v Wests Tigers, 4.10pm Sunday at Lottoland
Sea Eagles: 1 Tom Trbojevic, 2 Brad Parker, 3 Dylan Walker, 4 Brian Kelly, 5 Akuila Uate, 6 Lachlan Croker, 7 Daly Cherry-Evans (c), 8 Addin Fonua-Blake, 9 Apisai Koroisau, 10 Martin Taupau, 11 Joel Thompson, 12 Jack Gosiewski, 13 Jake Trbojevic
Interchange: 15 Shaun Lane, 16 Lloyd Perrett, 18 Matthew Wright, 21 Taniela Paseka
In Trent Barrett's final selection decisions an hour before kick-off, Frank Winterstein and Jonathan Wright were dropped from the Manly bench. Jackson Hastings is out with an Achilles injury and Toafofoa Sipley drops off the extended bench. Tom Trbojevic returns after a week out with an ankle injury. Brad Parker was a very late scratching last week but has been named on the wing. Jack Gosiewski has earned a starting spot.
Wests Tigers: 1 Corey Thompson, 2 David Nofoaluma, 3 Esan Marsters, 4 Kevin Naiqama, 5 Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, 6 Benji Marshall (c), 7 Luke Brooks, 15 Josh Aloiai, 9 Jacob Liddle, 10 Ben Matulino, 11 Chris Lawrence, 12 Robbie Rochow, 13 Matthew Eisenhuth
Interchange: 14 Josh Reynolds, 8 Alex Twal, 16 Michael Chee-Kam, 17 Sauaso Sue
Josh Aloiai will start the match at prop, with Alex Twal moving back to the interchange bench. Tim Grant and Tyson Gamble were the two players dropped from the squad an hour before kick-off. Josh Reynolds is in on the bench for his first game of the year, with Jacob Liddle into the starting side and Pita Godinet out. David Nofoaluma has been recalled on the wing and Corey Thompson will line up at fullback. Alex Twal starts at prop for Russell Packer (knee) with Sauaso Sue joining the bench. Elijah Taylor has still not recovered from a hamstring injury. Tui Lolohea and Chris McQueen were dropped off the extended bench 24 hours prior to kick-off.
Head-to-head: Played 25; Sea Eagles 15 wins, Wests Tigers 10 wins
Matches at venue: Played 9; Sea Eagles 8 wins, Wests Tigers 1 wins
2017 results: Sea Eagles won 28-16 at Lottoland in round 19; Wests Tigers won 30-26 at Leichhardt Oval in round 23
Points per game: Sea Eagles 26 (2nd); Wests Tigers 13.6 (13th)
Points conceded per game: Sea Eagles 20.2 (9th); Wests Tigers 11 (1st)
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League