Sea Eagles v Knights: Watson in for Pearce; Wright starts
Heavy losses, players dropped, teammates not getting along - what next for the Sea Eagles?
After becoming the struggling Eels' first victim last week, Manly are under increasing pressure to prove themselves as worthy top eight candidates.
If they can't fire up on their home turf and overcome a Knights outfit missing experienced halfback Mitchell Pearce, it's probably time to put a line through the Sea Eagles for 2018.
In the previous two seasons the Knights often found a way to beat themselves. Not anymore. The Tigers, Broncos, Sea Eagles and Raiders all found that out the hard way.
The loss of Pearce can't be measured, but spirits at the club remain high and this team can't be under-estimated.
Match: Sea Eagles vs Knights
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Key match-up: It was only a year or two ago that Manly fullback Tom Trbojevic was the next big thing. Turbo Tom is still only 21, but there's already another standout young fullback on the rise – 20-year-old Kalyn Ponga. They both need to have a strong influence over their respective teams on Friday, especially Ponga now that Pearce is sidelined with injury.
For the Sea Eagles to win: This team has to start paying closer attention to defence or there is a very real possibility they will finish with the wooden spoon. Daly Cherry-Evans has to take control and prove he is a marquee player who brings out the best in teammates.
For the Knights to win: First and foremost, the Knights can't dwell on the absence of Pearce. They need to look around the dressing room in the five minutes before kick-off and make a pact with each other that they will continue to play with the same self-belief and commitment while their experienced field general recovers.
Sea Eagles stat attack: They are 13th on the NRL ladder but the Sea Eagles are ranked first among teams in line-break assists (23). The numbers point to defensive issues, with Manly conceding 183 points in seven matches.
Knights stat attack: If you needed any further evidence that Ponga has arrived at Newcastle with a bang, the former Cowboys whiz-kid ranks first in the NRL in tackle breaks (57), equal first in line-break assists (8), third in kick return metres (388) and equal third in try assists (7).
And another thing: After losing to the Knights in golden point in round one, the Sea Eagles should be keen for some payback. But they seem to be having problems off the field as well as on and coach Trent Barrett is under pressure to get everybody pulling in the same direction.
Manly Sea Eagles v Newcastle Knights, 6pm Friday at Lottoland
Sea Eagles: 1 Tom Trbojevic, 2 Matthew Wright, 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: 14 Lewis Brown, 15 Shaun Lane, 16 Lloyd Perrett, 17 Taniela Paseka
Manly are 1-17, with Frank Winterstein and Jonathan Wright omitted an hour before kick-off. Matt Wright moves to the starting side in place of winger Brad Parker (knee, 4-6 weeks) with Lewis Brown joining the bench. Thomas Wright and Toafofoa Sipley were the two players to drop off the interchange bench 24 hours out from kick-off.
Knights: 1 Kalyn Ponga, 2 Ken Sio, 3 Sione Mata'utia, 4 Nathan Ross, 5 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 6 Connor Watson, 7 Jack Cogger, 8 Herman Ese'ese, 9 Slade Griffin, 10 Daniel Saifiti, 11 Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 12 Aidan Guerra (c), 13 Mitchell Barnett
Interchange: 14 Jamie Buhrer (c), 15 Chris Heighington, 16 Luke Yates, 17 Jacob Saifiti
The Knights are 1-17, with reserves Brock Lamb and Josh King cut an hour before kick-off. Jacob Lillyman won't play against the Sea Eagles after being dropped from the extended bench 24 hours out from kick-off. Connor Watson makes a timely return from a shoulder injury to start in the halves in place of Mitch Pearce (pec, 10-16 weeks), with Jack Cogger switching from five-eighth to halfback. Cory Denniss also dropped off the bench 24 hours before game time.
Head-to-head: Played 49; Sea Eagles 31 wins, Knights 18 wins
Matches at venue: Played 18; Sea Eagles 16 wins, Knights 2 wins
2017 result: Sea Eagles won 18-14 at Lottoland in round 14
Points per game: Sea Eagles 21.7; Knights 17.1
Points conceded per game: Sea Eagles 26.1; Knights 26.4
Televised: Live on Fox League
Steve Turner's prediction: The Sea Eagles would like to rather forget their last three matches that have been compounded by off field issues which I feel are a distraction and hindering the side's performance. The Knights come into the clash off the back of an impressive win over the Wests Tigers and while the news isn't great with Mitchell Pearce, a team brewing with confidence will always out-shine one who is lacking. Knights by 8.