Jem Nash previews a blockbuster clash between ladder leaders the Penrith Panthers and the rising Manly Sea Eagles at Lottoland on Saturday night.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
The Sea Eagles have bounced back in a big way since their heavy defeat to the Dragons in round nine. Dealing with a number of big injuries, they were able to overcome the Eels in round 10 to knock them out of top spot and then last week held off a stubborn Cowboys outfit. Those wins have lifted them back into the top eight and if they can hold onto their current form they will be very dangerous when their stars return.
The Panthers got their sixth win on the trot, beating the Titans last week. They weren’t perfect, but it was an important win with a number of starters missing from the side. Nathan Cleary continues to go from strength to strength and is one of the best players in the competition right now. Their forward pack, led by James Fisher-Harris and Isaah Yeo, continue to lay a perfect platform; the depth in their backs has been important, with Brian To’o and Dean Whare both missing game time.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
1 Brendan Elliot 2 Jorge Taufua 3 Brad Parker 4 Moses Suli 5 Reuben Garrick 6 Cade Cust 7 Daly Cherry-Evans 8 Addion Fonua-Blake 9 Danny Levi 10 Martin Taupau 11 Joel Thompson 12 Curtis Sironen 13 Jake Trbojevic 14 Lachlan Croker 15 Corey Waddell 16 Sean Keppie 17 Taniela Paseka 18 Haumole Olakau’atu 19 Dylan Walker 20 Tevita Funa 21 Morgan Boyle
Sean Keppie replaces Jack Gosiewski on the bench, while Dylan Walker is an outside chance of returning after being named in the reserves.
1 Caleb Aekins 2 Josh Mansour 3 Brent Naden 4 Stephen Crichton 5 Malakai Watene-Zelezniak 6 Jarome Luai 7 Nathan Cleary 8 James Tamou 9 Mitch Kenny 10 James Fisher-Harris 11 Viliame Kikau 12 Liam Martin 13 Isaah Yeo 14 Tyrone May 15 Spencer Leniu 16 Moses Leota 17 Billy Burns 18 Apisai Koroisau 19 Matt Burton 20 Zane Tetevano 21 Charlie Staines
Viliame Kikau returns to the starting side after missing last week’s game due to injury. Tyrone May drops back to the bench and Matt Burton returns to the reserves. Apisai Koroisau has been named in the reserves as well as Zane Tetevano – as both hope to return from injury.
The Panthers and Sea Eagles have won three games apiece in their last six matches against one another, but the Sea Eagles have a good record at Lottoland, winning six of their past nine games at the venue.
BATTLE TO WATCH
James Fisher-Harris vs Addin Fonua-Blake
Fisher-Harris and Fonua-Blake have developed into two of the best prop-forwards in the competition. Both have been absolute workhorses for their respective sides and are a massive part of their success.
Both forwards are in the top 10 in the competition in run metres, with Fonua-Blake averaging 199.4 metres per game (88.4 post-contact) while Fisher-Harris is right behind with 195.3 metres per game (71.1 post-contact), as well as getting through a heavy workload in defence.
Whichever player can get on top in this battle and get their team on the front foot, providing a good platform for their halves, will go a long way to deciding this match.
Panthers by four.
Date: Saturday, August 1