The St. George Illawarra Dragons will return to WIN Stadium this Sunday afternoon for the first time since round 9 and will host a formidable Manly Sea Eagles. Having beaten the Sea Eagles earlier in the season the Dragons have lost four of their last five games and will want to bounce back with a win and not slide outside the top 8. The Manly team will be hungry for revenge, keeping their impressive away record and top 4 placing intact.
LAST TIME OUT
The Dragons were up against a desperate Canberra Raiders last round. The away side went down early by a converted try hit back with a mid-field bust by winger Nene Macdonald following through in support was five eighth Gareth Widdop. After being the much better side for majority of the night the Raiders halfback Aiden Sezer took the odds on a long pass to intercept and get his side back into the game running 80 metres and leveling the score 12 all with 20 minutes left, shortly after both sides conceded penalties to make it 14 all at full time. Earlier Heroics from Sezer was repeated 2 minutes into golden point with a massive 40/20, off the first play of the set a Dave Taylor late offload found Elliot Whitehead to score under the posts and win 18-14.
The Sea Eagles had a home game against the Wests Tigers. The Manly side was out to an 8 nil lead within the opening 11 minutes through the brilliance of halfback Daly Cherry-Evans and fullback Tom Trbojevic making great pass selections. The Tigers hit back with two quick tries from carless defence from the home side on their line. The second half brought an error from the Tigers which saw a barrage of tries to close the game for the Sea Eagles, with more great vision from Trbojevic to link with brother Jake as well as the skipper Cherry-Evans successfully kicking the conversions as well as a penalty to push Manly to a 28-16 win.
The key battle come Sunday afternoon in this match will be none other than the inform captains of Gareth Widdop and Daly Cherry-Evans. Both have had tremendous seasons thus far and will be looking to edge out one another with their kicking and amazing passing.
Cherry-Evans is no doubt the most improved and best halfback of the competition at the moment. Leading his side this year he has found his previous heights as a player since five eighth Blake Green has accompanied him at the club. Cherry-Evans is leading the way in try assists, line break assists, 40/20 kicks and more impressively has made more one-on-one tackles than any other player. The captaincy has been a blessing in disguise for him, he now controls the Sea Eagles side and he will no doubt have to play a big role this weekend as he has for the past months if Manly is to come away with a win against the Dragons.
Gareth Widdop is having a superb season, he has gone to another level since the Dragons forward pack has become more consistent giving the playmaker more space to work. On the weekend he will have to be aware of critical moments in the game where he will need to make the right decisions as he has done all year, the Englishman has scored 9 tries and line breaks showing how damaging he can be taking the line on. Having just four less try assists than his opposition captain, Widdop will be wanting to add to that tally if his side is to win convincingly.
The clash between these two teams will have the only top 8 sides playing each other this weekend, with the Dragons losing they could fall outside the eight and for the Sea Eagles they are playing to keep their top 4 spot. The Dragons side comes into this match playing quite poorly with it reflecting over the last month not being able to close out games or letting opposition sides back into the match. Though the Manly side will have their hooker out with injury, the form of the side has been up there with the best being able to win in any situation. Off the back of their playmaker Cherry-Evans in career best form it’s hard to see how the Sea Eagles will side lose to a Dragons outfit struggling of late. It will be a nail biting game going down to the final moments but Manly will be too clinical and take the win.
Manly by 4
St. George Illawarra Dragons v Manly Sea Eagles, Sunday 23rd July, 2pm at WIN Stadium.
Dragons: 1. Josh Dugan 2. Nene Macdonald 3. Euan Aitken 4. Timoteo Lafai 5. Jason Nightingale 6. Gareth Widdop (c) 7. Josh McCrone 8. Leeson Ah Mau 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Joel Thompson 13. Jack de Belin 14. Tariq Sims 15. Jacob Host 16. Blake Lawrie 17. Kurt Mann 18. Matthew Dufty 19. Taane Milne 20. Russell Packer 21. Jake Marketo
Sea Eagles: 1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Brad Parker 3. Dylan Walker 4. Brian Kelly 5. Akuila Uate 6. Blake Green 7. Daly Cherry-Evans (c) 8. Brenton Lawrence 9. Cameron Cullen 10. Martin Taupau 11. Frank Winterstein 12. Shaun Lane 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Jackson Hastings 15. Lloyd Perrett 16. Darcy Lussick 17. Addin Fonua-Blake 18. Jarrad Kennedy 19. Joey Lussick 20. Lewis Brown 21. Jonathan Wright