The Manly Sea Eagles host the Penrith Panthers this Saturday Night for an epic final round clash at Lottoland. The Manly side will farewell club legends Brett Stewart, Steve Matai and Matt Ballin with the Sea Eagles finals chances are on the line, while the Panthers are looking to bounce back after falling short losing to the Dragons last round in fear of slipping out of the top 8. This match could provide one of the best and a instant classic between these two sides for seasons to come with so much to play for this has a finals feeling already.

LAST TIME OUT

The Sea Eagles last round travelled across the ditch to play the Warriors in a must win game with their finals ambitions on the line. The conditions at Mt Smart Stadium were terrible with holding onto possession was difficult, the fierce gale force winds were taken advantage of by the Manly side with two brilliant 40/20 kicks from Blake Green in the opening 15minutes. An error in the Sea Eagles 20 metres had Warrior able to quickly fire back through winger David Fusitua in the corner from precision passing, soon after another attacking chance for Warriors to score was taken with Shaun Johnson putting in a neat grubber behind the defence for Fusitua to beat the Manly cover to bag his double 8 minutes before the half makingthe score 14-8. Manly hit back after the break with a line break by Tom Trbojevic to then kick and find his centre Dylan walker in the corner. Manly led 14-8 before another right and left side tries gave the home side the lead 20-14, Shaun Johnson then slotted a field goal with only 7 minutes left in the match. A masterful play by Tom Trbojevic chip and chased in the 76th minute to find the ball sliding over to score himself with the score 21-20, it was then Daly Cherry-Evans right foot leveling the scores for golden point to commence. The Warriors being their own worst enemies shifted the ball and taken out in touch for Manly to then charge up the field in the 84th minute to again find Cherry-Evans  for himt to step off his right foot and ice the game with a left foot field goal to win 22-21.

The Panthers were playing host to a desperate Dragons side with their season on the line, losing would see them out of contention for the finals. Being the biggest game of the Dragons season they attacked hard through the middle and controlled early on, by the 10th minute they found a charging Paul Vaughan to pick up the first four-pointer of the match. It was an intense back and forth encounter while the weather got worse as the game went on, the Panthers were able to get the ball to Tyrone May to take the line on and score their opening points and it seemed that they were back on top of the match. Just before the half an error from the Panthers cost field position and a shift through the hands to find an overlap which created an opportunity for young Dragons fullback Matt Dufty to fly over for a try and lead 12-8 at the break. The second half started with gale force winds and pouring rain as more errors and mistakes took over the Panthers were struggling to hold onto the ball. The Penrith fullback limping off the field had Dallin Watene Zelezniak push from the wing and after his fellow winger had just scored minutes earlier the fill in fullback from a kick return had the ball stripped in the 56th minute to make it 14-12 from a big play by Tariq Sims stealing the ball and running away for a try in the must win game would be evidently be the game winning reason for the Dragons side to finish the match 16-14 at Pepper Stadium.

KEY BATTLE

The battle between Manly and Penrith in this final round fixture will be the highlighted by some of the most in form and influential players in the league. The intense nature of the clash resulting in a guaranteed finals spot has it as both clubs biggest game of the year, as the two teams do not want to rely on for and against as well as the result of two other games. The key battle come Saturday Night is between arguably the most in form halfbacks this year has seen between Daly Cherry-Evans and Nathan Cleary. These players will be paramount in seeing their team win this epic and secure the playoff spot in what has been an up and down season for both clubs.

The Manly Captain Daly Cherry-Evans is having one of his best seasons to date leading his side for the first year the halfback is a big reason to why the side is on the cusp of returning to the finals for the first time in two years. DCE is the form halfback of the entire season bosting some incredible performances and clutch plays to get the Manly side a win each week. A lot of what the captain has re-captured this season is off the back of halves partner Blake Green coming to the club assisting in taking pressure off him allowing DCE to perform his adlib and entertaining structure. The clarity with a seasoned five-eighth playing beside him after a few years of tough circumstances is now showing why he has been promoted to the leader of the squad. Cherry-Evans got his side out of trouble against the Warriors last round and will want a more complete performance from himself and the team if they are to beat the Panthers, he will need to be dominant with his kicking game as he has all year leading the competition with 19 try assists and averaging 23 tackles a game. Manly will demand for their star halfback to see them into the finals with a complete controlled game and commanding influence over his opposing half.

The Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary has produced one of the best seasons a young player in rugby league for their second year. The term second year syndrome is passed around when a player of high significance underperforms the year following but for the Penrith number seven has gone to another level. The halfback became the youngest ever player to reach 200 points this season which has definitely shown the calibre of player he is and can be. If not for his opposing captain in Cherry-Evans having a stellar year Cleary would likely be picked as the best halfback for the Dally M team of the year, his contribution with key players falling to injuries and while keeping a cool head has brought his side in one game away of cementing a finals spot yet again after a terrible start to the season. Cleary has contributed to 8 try assists, 10 line break assists and 11 tries to his own wjile leading with ease. The Panthers side will look to him to play one of his best games this year away from home to put any doubt of them falling out of the top 8, using his pinpoint and effortless kicks behind the Manly defence as well putting his body on the line to lift his side into making a huge task fall in their favour.

PREDICTION

The match between the Panthers and the Manly Sea Eagles will be one of the most anticipated games of the round let alone the season. This has two top 8 sides in the final round going head to head to confirm a finals spot, the Penrith side coming off a loss in their last home game will be seething over letting slip to a guaranteed finals berth while the Sea Eagles will want to put together a convincing win. The home side will be greeted to the Panthers with as much to play for as themselves, the visitors are down their captain Matt Moylan as well as fullback Dylan Edwards in this match and could prove to be a difficult task for the mountain men to contain what will be a ruthless Manly side at Lottoland. The golden point win for the Sea Eagles has lifted the spirits and will no doubt have them more lethal against the Penrith side who have been average away and against top 8 quality sides. Manly side in front of their home fans for the last time while celebrating club legends will have the motivation and fortress like mentality of old shine through to see a close but certain win to the Sea Eagles letting them grab a finals placing.

Sea Eagles by 6

SQUADS

Manly Sea Eagles vs Penrith Panthers, Saturday 2nd September, 5.30pm at Lottoland.

Sea Eagles: 1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Matthew Wright 3. Dylan Walker 4. Brian Kelly 5. Akuila Uate 6. Blake Green 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Darcy Lussick 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. Martin Taupau 11. Frank Winterstein 12. Curtis Sironen 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Lewis Brown 15. Lloyd Perrett 16. Brenton Lawrence 17. Addin Fonua-Blake 18. Shaun Lane 19. Cameron Cullen 20. Jarrad Kennedy 21. Jackson Hastings

Panthers: 1. Dean Whare 2. Josh Mansour 3. Tyrone Peachey 4. Waqa Blake 5. Dallin Watene Zelezniak 6. Tyrone May 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Peter Wallace 10. Regan Campbell-Gillard 11. Corey Harawira 12. Isaah Yeo 13. James Fisher-Harris 14. Sione Katoa 15. Bryce Cartwright 16. Tim Browne 17. Trent Merrin 18. Moses Leota 19. Viliame Kikau 20. Matt Moylan 21. Jed Cartwright