The Manly Sea Eagles return to Fortress Brookvale on Monday night, where they will look to get their first win of the season against an in form Cronulla Sharks outfit.
The Manly side were widely tipped to make the top four, yet find themselves two losses from two starts, having been belted by the Bulldogs and Tigers to start the season.
The Sharks bounced back from a narrow round one loss to the Cowboys to easily dispose of the Dragons in their local derby encounter, and look in ominous form for 2016.
However, the Sharks need caution when facing up against the wounded Sea Eagles. The visitors hold a very poor record against the home side, particularly at Brookvale, winning just 23% of games at the ground. The Manly outfit have also won 68% of clashes between the two sides overall, since 1998. Surprisingly, the Sharks biggest winning margin came against the Sea Eagles (2005, 68-6).
The Eagles have named the same team that went down to the Tigers, while the Sharks have welcomed Chris Heighington back from suspension at the cost of Joseph Paulo.
LAST TIME OUT
The Sea Eagles form to start 2016 has been dismal, both home and away. With the chance to open their account at home against the Bulldogs in round one, they instead slipped to a 28-6 loss. They followed this up with an away loss to the Tigers in round 2, where they went down in enterprising fashion courtesy of a 36-22 score line.
The Sharks fought hard in round one against the premiers, before slipping late and in round 2 they turned on the fireworks to slay the Dragons 30-2, particularly impressive either side of half time. A late St George Raid was finished spectacularly by Sam Tagatese, who smashed Jack De Belin, showed the ferocity of the Sharks defence, and their passion to protect their try line.
Martin Taupau was huge for Manly in their loss to the Tigers, as he looked to destroy his old club. The Eagles’ enforcer will need to repeat the effort if his club are to upset Cronulla on Monday night. Looking to stop him is Sharks’ captain Wade Graham, who is a genius in his own rights. Both players have a different style, With Taupau better known for bashing his opponents, while Graham has wonderful ball playing skills, having started his career in the halves. Both players will have to use their own style to thwart the other’s efforts, which will go a long way to leading their respective side to victory.
Both sides also have new men wearing the number six, with both Dylan Walker for Manly and James Maloney (Cronulla) still settling in to their new clubs. If Taupau or Graham can dominate, it should make their respective five eighths feel much more at home. While Walker has looked dusty in the number six, as he continues to learn the ropes, Maloney looks more natural in his usual place, though he is still building that combination with his teammates around him. Both Walker and Maloney can work magic when given space, and the yardage battle between Taupau and Graham could open up and allow the number sixes’ creativity to flow.
If the Sharks take note of their recent form, the Manly side will cause an upset. The Cronulla side this year seem to be a more determined outfit than in seasons past, however, highlighted by their staunch defence to the final minute against St George. Even last season, they tended to give up late points if the game was decided already.
Even with Manly looking out of sorts, this clash is likely to be a hard fought affair. The Cronulla side will know that the Sea Eagle’s poor start will only make them more desperate, and a determined football side is a dangerous prospect. The Sharks look strong, while the Eagles look like a work in progress, pointing to the visitors collecting the points, but stranger things have happened in rugby league and a trip to Brookvale is never easy, particularly, it seems, for Cronulla. Current form says the Shire side, recent form between the two sides screams the Sea Eagles.
If the Sharks are to prove themselves, however, they need to keep winning, and particularly against teams that are struggling. At the moment, Manly fall in to that category, and Cronulla should give them their third loss on the trot.
Sharks by 8
Manly Sea Eagles: 1 Tom Trbojevic, 2 Jorge Taufua, 3 Jamie Lyon, 4 Steve Matai, 5 Brayden Wiliame, 6 Dylan Walker, 7 Daly Cherry-Evans, 8 Josh Starling, 9 Apisai Koroisau, 10 Nate Myles, 11 Lewis Brown, 12 Martin Taupau, 13 Jake Trbojevic. Interchange: 14 Matt Parcell, 15 Nathan Green, 16 Brenton Lawrence, 17 Siosia Vave
Sharks: 1 Ben Barba, 2 Sosaia Feki, 3 Jack Bird, 4 Ricky Leutele, 5 Valentine Holmes, 6 James Maloney, 7 Chad Townsend, 8 Andrew Fifita, 9 Michael Ennis, 10 Sam Tagataese, 11 Luke Lewis, 12 Wade Graham, 13 Jayson Bukuya. Interchange: 14 Gerard Beale, 15 Matt Prior, 16 David Fifita, 17 Chris Heighington, 18 Joseph Paulo