Mitch Dransfield previews the first elimination final of week one, with the Manly Sea Eagles hosting Cronulla Sharks at Brookvale.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Manly, down on troops, were unable to upset the Parramatta Eels at Bankwest, losing 32-16 and dropping from fifth to sixth.
Cronulla, in a do-or-die encounter with the Wests Tigers at Leichardt Oval on Sunday, pulled off a convincing 25-8 win – seeing them into the finals to play Manly.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
A few change for the home side with Corey Wadell into the starting side for Taniela Paseka. Jack Gosiewski returns from injury for Curtis Sironen. Haumole Olakau’atu and Toafofoa Sipley feature on the bench. Tony Williams is in the reserves and hasn’t played NRL in 18 months but could feature in this clash.
Olakau’atu will make his NRL debut in this elimination final.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles’ Squad: 1. Brendan Elliot 2. Jorge Taufua 3. Brad Parker 4. Moses Suli 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Dylan Walker 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Addin Fonua-Blake 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. Sean Keppie 11. Corey Waddell 12. Jack Gosiewski 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Manase Fainu 15. Haumole Olakauatu 16. Lloyd Perrett 17. Toafofoa Sipley 18. Lachlan Croker 19. Cade Cust 20. Tevita Funa 21. Tony Williams.
Cronulla make limited changes with Aaron Gray replacing Ronaldo Mulitalo, who is suspended for a week, while Aaron Woods is moved back to the starting side with Andrew Fifita reverting to the bench.
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks’ Squad: 1. Josh Dugan 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Bronson Xerri 4. Josh Morris 5. Aaron Gray 6. Shaun Johnson 7. Chad Townsend 8. Aaron Woods 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 11. Briton Nikora 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen 14. Kurt Capewell 15. Jack Williams 16. Andrew Fifita 17. Braden Hamlin-Uele 18. Billy Magoulias 19. Blayke Brailey 20. Kyle Flanagan 21. Matt Moylan.
HEAD TO HEAD
These clubs have no love for one another, especially in finals. These clubs – located on the northern and southern beaches – would love to get the win over the other this time around. In the past eighteen fixtures the Sea Eagles have lost just twice to the Sharks; this is a playoffs match and with so much on the line, past results and current form tend to go out the window, with the victory in these matches going to whoever handles the rollercoaster that is the battle of the beaches.
The only time they met this season was back in round ten where the Sharks were in and out of form while the Sea Eagles were flexing their credentials that even low on high profile players they could grab a gutsy 24-14 win, with a mixture of players that are now not in the Manly side.
In what will be a tough contest, with both sides incredibly desperate to keep their finals campaign alive, the key battle that is hard to look past is through the halfbacks: Chad Townsend and Daly Cherry-Evans. These two veteran clutch players – on the back of their previous finals appearances – have taken their side deeper into finals off their own individual games.
One of the most underrated players in the league, Chad Townsend has once again gone under the radar to get the Sharks into the finals and they’re now ready to fire with his full strength team. Having been in the finals for a few years with the Sharks, including the premiership, Townsend has been one of the most consistent again for Cronulla: playing all 24 matches with an impressive 13 try assists, 19 forced drop outs and 6 tries. Those are elite numbers which have greatly been missed by many. With attention mainly on 2019 new buy Shaun Johnson, the reins have still fallen on Townsend in key moments to support his big men or service his backs. He will be relied upon in this match more so than ever with the forwards having limited opportunities to dominate and possession being at a premium in finals. Chad’s kicking game as the chief playmaker will need to be accurate or they could fall into the form that saw them nearly miss the finals with lack of polish with the ball in good areas.
The Eagles are on their last leg and now more than ever they will need a masterclass from their marquee half and captain Cherry-Evans to lift the side, taking all the chances given to beat the Sharks. This is not the first time DCE has been under pressure; with many quality players for his side now injured, his playmaking was super important for their run home, however it’s up to the captain to strangle the opposition and draw from his big game experience to lead the Sea Eagles to an upset win. The Manly skipper has battled throughout 2019 with his own injuries, and long representative commitment for Queensland, to still give his side impressive numbers that still has him as a top five half going into finals. Cherry-Evans has produced 18 try assists, 13 line dropouts and 13 line break assists which had him combine with his spine players with such fluidity to get Manly to the finals. This Saturday the halfback will need to play out of his skin and connect with his five-eighth Dylan Walker to upset the Sharks’ middle linking with Manase Fainu and Api Koroisau, while kicking the lights out in the corners assessing the situation in every set while sticking to the game plan that Des Hasler puts froward.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday, 14th September
Referee: Matt Cecchin
WHO WILL WIN?
The ball is in the Sharks’ court with their full-strength side, but with the error counts still plaguing their games it will need to be fixed up quickly or the Sea Eagles will swoop. Manly get their first home final since 2008 and boy they will be fighting for every possession and play, so the Sharks, if they want to continue their winning run into the second week of finals, will need to be clinical and use their advantage of a settled side to get them over the line. I expect the Sea Eagles to put their best foot forward with a gutsy performance, never holding up for the full eighty, however the way Cronulla is playing now is what we expected from the for the entire season with confident football in attack, and defence that has enough resilience to hold the best of sides. If this was played a month ago Manly would win, but for now it’s the Sharks’ game to lose and I expect with Paul Gallen not wanting to retire they will lift to break their hoodoo against Manly.
Prediction: Sharks by seven.