Mitch Dransfield previews the first Sunday afternoon blockbuster of the season, with the Manly Sea Eagles at home against their rivals the Melbourne Storm.
One of the few sides to only play a single trial, Manly played a few of their guns and new signings in a loss against the Cronulla Sharks on Sunday March 1. Their form in the Nines was impressive, making it out of group stages with some brilliance from fresh faces. Much of the top grade side who didn’t play any pre-season matches will likely be fresh to go, outside the obvious injuries to certain players to start the year.
Melbourne featured in two trials: beating the Warriors 18-16, with a squad based around their depth outside the top 30, and the Cowboys 22-14, with their questioned backline for the season standing up and potentially cementing a first grade spot.
1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Jorge Taufua 3. Brad Parker 4. Moses Suli 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Dylan Walker 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Addin Fonua-Blake 9. Danny Levi 10. Martin Taupau 11. Joel Thompson 12. Curtis Sironen 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Lachlan Croker 15. Sean Keppie 16. Morgan Boyle 17. Haumole Olakauatu 18. Toafofoa Sipley 19. Brendan Elliot 20. Tevita Funa 21. Zac Saddler
1. Ryan Papenhuyzen 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Marion Seve 4. Justin Olam 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Jahrome Hughes 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10. Tui Kamikamica 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenneath Bromwich 13. Dale Finucane 14. Harry Grant 15. Tino Faasuamaleaui 16. Max King 17. Tom Eisenhuth 18. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 19. Brenko Lee 20. Ryley Jacks 21. Darryn Schonig
As NRL rivalries go, this is one of the biggest; head-to-head these two powerhouse clubs have met thirty-six times with the Storm edging out Manly twenty to fifteen with one draw. Since 2018 four matches have been played, with the away side winning all four games; this includes two one-point deciders with an epic Golden Point match last season, along with two blow-out battles that featured huge hits and brawls leading to send-offs or sin bins.
This fixture has all the passion and fire you want, but this epic round one clash will be the first time in six years they’ve met on the opening weekend. Melbourne have not lost in the first round since 2001.
BATTLE TO WATCH
Tom Trbojevic v Ryan Papenhuyzen
Old foes will battle out at Brookvale Oval once again, but even with the troops returning for Manly for this drama-filled match, it will be a playoff between two impressive top-line fullbacks with the return of Tom Trbojevic and Ryan Papenhuyzen (who has gotten the nod since the end of last season for the full time fullback role).
Starts of the season always begin with unusual or predictable shape in attack through the halves and rest of the spine for many teams. The pressure will be on the playmakers of the Sea Eagles and Storm, but the speed and finesse of these two dynamic fullbacks will be the head-to-head to watch as they will likely hold the key to victory.
Finishing off the big plays of major sets has been often put on the better number ones of the competition, but with targets on the rest of the spine, space will be open for Papenhuyzen and Trbojevic to ice plays out the back with their passing or tucking it under their wing and going for the line to score.
Date: Sunday 15th March
Venue: Lottoland, Sydney
Kick-off: 4.05pm (AEDT)