Vodafone Warriors v Manly Sea Eagles
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
4.00pm, Sunday, August 27
Two teams looking to battle their way out of form slumps, albeit of vastly different degrees of severity, meet in Auckland this Sunday in the penultimate round of the NRL regular season.
For the 13th-placed Vodafone Warriors the current situation is about as bad as it gets and with seven-straight losses to their name.
They come off a heavy 18-36 defeat at the hands of the South Sydney Rabbitohs last Friday but get a boost this week with star halfback Shaun Johnson returning to the starting side in place of Ata Hingano, who drops back to the interchange.
Ben Matulino is a straight swap for Jacob Lillyman (biceps) while Isaiah Papali'i joins the bench and Chris Satae and Mason Lino are on the extended interchange.
Despite crashing to back-to-back defeats last week in being upset by the Canterbury Bulldogs 16-30, Sea Eagles coach Trent Barrett has named an unchanged line-up for the trip to Auckland.
Sitting in eighth position and just one win ahead of the nearest chaser, Manly's season sits in the balance after picking up only one win from its last four games.
Why the Vodafone Warriors can win: Most of the tangibles suggest a comfortable Manly victory, but the home side have plenty to play for in theory, which should see them get up for this one. Sunday is the Vodafone Warriors' last home game this season and there is a clear desire in the playing group to repay their fans following another underwhelming season. It is also club stalwart Matulino's last home match for the club, along with former captain Ryan Hoffman. A number of players also remain unsigned beyond this season, giving the Vodafone Warriors plenty of reason to feel motivated, even if the ladder doesn't agree.
Why the Sea Eagles can win: Manly has the kind of attack which could dish out all kinds of punishment on a frail defensive side like the Vodafone Warriors. Heading into round 25 the Sea Eagles have the fourth best attacking output in the NRL, averaging 23 points per game, while they break the line more than any team bar the Melbourne Storm and St George Illawarra Dragons. With Jake Trbojevic's ability to ball play in the middle of the park, the likes of Apisai Koroisau and Daly Cherry-Evans could have a field day in Auckland.
The History: Played 30; Sea Eagles 22; Vodafone Warriors 8. Manly has a brilliant record against the Vodafone Warriors, boasting six straight wins against them dating back to 2013, and beyond that have won 17 of their last 20 encounters against the Kiwi club. At Mount Smart Stadium, Manly hase lost only three times in 14 visits.
What are the odds: Punters with Sportsbet are reluctant to back either of these sides, who have let them down a lot recently. On the New Zealand TAB, the Vodafone Warriors are paying $2.35 head-to-head, Manly $1.55. Find out all thje odds www.tab.co.nz
Vodafone Warriors | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c); David Fusitu'a, Blake Ayshford, Solomone Kata, Ken Maumalo; Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson; Ben Matulino, Issac Luke, Sam Lisone; Bunty Afoa, Ryan Hoffman; Simon Mannering. Interchange: Mafoa'aeata Hingano, Charlie Gubb, Isaiah Papali'i, Jazz Tevaga, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Chris Satae, James Bell, Mason Lino.
Manly Sea Eagles | Tom Trbojevic; Matthew Wright, Dylan Walker, Brian Kelly, Akuila Uate; Blake Green, Daly Cherry-Evans; Darcy Lussick, Apisai Koroisau, Martin Taupau; Frank Winterstein, Shaun Lane; Jake Trbojevic. Interchange: Lewis Brown, Lloyd Perrett, Brenton Lawrence, Addin Fonua-Blake, Jarrad Kennedy, Cameron Cullen, Jackson Hastings, Taniela Paseka.
Match officials: Referee: Gavin Badger. Assistant referee: Chris Sutton. Sideline officials: Chris McMillan and Clayton Sharpe. Review official: Luke Patten. Senior review official: Ashley Klein.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 2pm. SKY Sport – Live coverage from 3.30pm.
NRL.com predicts: Manly has it all to play for and the Vodafone Warriors have shown almost no improvement over the last two months, suggesting their drought-breaking victory might not come in 2017. Expect the Vodafone Warriors to foot it with Manly early but in the end a big Sea Eagles victory seems inevitable. Manly by 20.
- First published on www.nrl.com