After out-playing the Raiders and still losing to a last-gasp field goal last week, the Sea Eagles are probably still wondering how they let it happen.
If Daly Cherry-Evans had converted Brian Kelly's second-half try the Sea Eagles would be riding a three-game winning streak. They still should've been good enough to put the game to bed over the last 15 minutes but they gave the Raiders a sniff and showed signs of panic when they needed cool heads down the stretch.
Now Manly are down in 12th spot approaching the season's halfway mark and have to prepare for a talented Cowboys side that has basically reached the nothing-to-lose stage. This week they will also be without the services of Jake and Tom Trbojevic, who are both on NSW Origin duty.
The Cowboys lost another close one last week, going down to Melbourne by a point to leave themselves floundering in 15th spot with a measly three wins from 12 games. This week they will be weakened by the absence of Queensland Origin reps Michael Morgan, Coen Hess and Gavin Cooper. The experience of Scott Bolton will be vital but the veteran prop is racing the clock to overcome a rib injury.
Even if they do manage to pull off a win at one of the toughest venues for visiting teams, the Cowboys have clearly lost the magic of recent years and don't appear capable of playing finals football in 2018.
Key match-up: With a collective five players missing from both teams due to Origin selection, this clash will almost certainly come down to how much influence Daly Cherry-Evans and Johnathan Thurston have on the performances of their respective sides. It must feel a little strange for JT to play club footy through the Origin period but he will no doubt be looking forward to his duel with former Maroons teammate Cherry-Evans.
Match: Sea Eagles v Cowboys
Round 13 -
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For the Sea Eagles to win: Cherry-Evans was mad at himself for missing a conversion that would've sealed victory last week against Canberra. His teammates hope he has moved on because he has more responsibility on his shoulders than usual on Thursday. DCE needs to be a leader – both verbally and through his actions – for 80 minutes in the absence of the Trbojevic brothers, particularly Jake.
For the Cowboys to win: Oh how the frustration must be mounting for coach Paul Green. The Cowboys were never out of it last week against the Storm but have suffered so many losses this season that they've clearly forgotten how to win. They have the NRL's third-worst attacking record and need to rediscover their prolific point-scoring power of recent years.
Sea Eagles stat attack: Prop Martin Taupau was his usual busy self in last week's 21-20 road loss to the Raiders, topping his team's tackle count (37) and metres run (189). Trent Hodkinson kicked 4/4 goals in his first appearance of the season for Manly.
Cowboys stat attack: In a game that was there for the taking all night, the Cowboys shot themselves in the foot last week against Melbourne. They completed just 69 per cent, missed a whopping 37 tackles and had 17 ineffective tackles – not really a recipe for success.
And another thing: Jake Granville would be filthy the Cowboys are struggling near the bottom of the ladder. Cameron Smith's sudden retirement from the Origin arena created a vacancy at hooker for Queensland and Granville might've got the nod if his team was higher up the table. As it turned out, Andrew McCullough will deservedly wear the No.9 jersey for the Maroons. Granville has a few weeks to lift his game and cross his fingers Queensland selectors will be looking to make changes for game two.
Manly Sea Eagles v North Queensland Cowboys, Thursday 7.50pm at Lottoland
Sea Eagles: 1 Matthew Wright, 2 Jorge Taufua, 3 Moses Suli, 4 Brian Kelly, 5 Akuila Uate, 6 Trent Hodkinson, 7 Daly Cherry-Evans (c), 8 Addin Fonua-Blake, 9 Apisai Koroisau, 10 Martin Taupau, 11 Joel Thompson, 15 Jack Gosiewski, 13 Shaun Lane
Interchange: 12 Frank Winterstein, 14 Bradley Parker, 16 Lloyd Perrett, 17 Toafofoa Sipley
Jack Gosiewski will start for the Sea Eagles with Frank Winterstein dropping back to the bench. Matt Wright starts at fullback for Blues Origin rep Tom Trbojevic while Jake Trbojevic's absence at lock is covered by Shaun Lane. Api Koroisau returns from suspension. Brad Parker is the new names on the bench. Thomas Wright and Lewis Brown were dropped from the bench an hour before kick-off after Jonathan Wright and Tevita Funa were omitted 24 hours out from game time.
Cowboys: 1 Lachlan Coote, 2 Kyle Feldt, 3 Justin O'Neill, 4 Enari Tuala, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 6 Te Maire Martin, 7 Johnathan Thurston (c), 15 Sam Hoare, 9 Jake Granville, 16 Corey Jensen, 11 Shaun Fensom, 12 Ethan Lowe, 13 Jason Taumalolo
Interchange: 14 Ben Hampton, 17 Francis Molo, 18 Kane Linnett, 20 Mitchell Dunn,
Scott Bolton won't play against the Sea Eagles after being left out of the team an hour before kick-off. Corey Jensen takes his spot in the starting 13. He will play alongside Sam Hoare in the front row. Ben Hampton, who was listed at prop 24 hours out from kick-off, will start on the bench. As well as the loss of Bolton, Javid Bowen was the other player to drop out an hour from game time. Lachlan Coote has been recalled at fullback in place of Queensland utility Michael Morgan. After playing the previous two games off the bench young gun Enari Tuala starts at centre. Shaun Fensom starts at second row for Maroons rep Gav Cooper. On top of Matt Scott's judiciary-enforced omission, Jake Clifford was the man taken off the bench 24 hours before kick-off.
Head-to-head: Played 28; Sea Eagles 16 wins, Cowboys 12 wins
Matches at venue: Played 9; Sea Eagles 5 wins, Cowboys 4 wins
2017 result: Sea Eagles won 30-8 in round 3
Points per game: Sea Eagles 22.2; Cowboys 15.6
Points conceded per game: Sea Eagles 22.7; Cowboys 20.8
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League
Steve Turner's prediction: The Sea Eagles were unlucky last weekend after going down to the Raiders by a point and will miss NSW origin reps Tom and Jake Trbojevic. The Cowboys have been a real disappointment this year and they're a side that looks exhausted. With only one win away from home this year, their season is on the line and Johnathan Thurston not playing in the Origin series, I sense an upset on the cards at Brookvale.
Tip: Cowboys by 4