The Sea Eagles travel to Panthers Stadium for the first Origin-impacted match of 2019.
Both teams have generously donated their halfback to the respective State of Origin teams but Manly’s Daly Cherry-Evans had been out injured anyway since the Sea Eagles’ win over Canberra in Round 7.
Manly currently sit in sixth but are coming off a surprise 18-36 whipping from the Gold Coast at Brookvale, a result which sent their already unlikely top four hopes (and every league fan’s tipping) into a tailspin.
Penrith were down ten points after seven minutes against Parramatta at Bankwest Stadium but they stood strong to gut out a 16-10 win and give themselves and coach Ivan Cleary a week off from constant media scuttlebutt around player unrest, his own struggles with the job, contract dramas and salary cap issues.
The Panthers have certainly been copping a booting from all and sundry for their bad 2019. That’s what happens when more is expected of you.
It’s seven wins to the Panthers in the last ten meetings between these clubs which is a reasonable indication of where both teams have been at over the last few seasons.
Last time they met was Round 20 in 2018, an amazing game where Penrith ran down a 24-6 deficit by scoring four tries in six minutes to pinch a 28-24 win.
Des Hasler owns Ivan Cleary over the journey with 13 wins from 19 meetings, much like he owns a lot of the coaches in the NRL. Like him or not you’ve got to give him credit for his work in getting Manly into a position not many if any thought they’d be in.
Manly have made 43 linebreaks to Penrith’s 29, Penrith have made 136 errors to Manly’s 114, and the Panthers are far and away missing the most tackles in the comp (428, 40 more than the next worst and 126 more than Manly).
Hasler’s sides pride themselves on a strong defence and until last week, the Sea Eagles were doing their job. Manly have 70 more points on the board (213 to Penrith’s 143) but the gap in points conceded is closing (206 to 250).
With Cherry-Evans absent, Cade Cust has filled in the last two weeks in the halves alongside Kane Elgey. The rookie has done pretty well too, setting up a couple of tries and a couple of line breaks as well. He and Elgey have a tough match-up with career winner James Maloney and Penrith’s talented youngster Jarome Luai.
Marty Taupau has been a rock for the Sea Eagles this year. He’s churning out just under 155 metres a week and is almost impossible to bring down solo. He’s 11th in the competition for post contact metres (532) and along with Curtis Sironen is able to free an arm for an offload (they’ve got 20 each). This work is why Manly feature heavily in the line break categories.
First year back Rueben Garrick has been quite the find, scoring six tries and kicking at 88 per cent. Garrick has made some great plays but he needs to, because his defence needs a lot of work – he’s missing half his tackles. He’s named as starting in the centres, where he can be guaranteed a lot of business is coming his way.
Penrith welcome Maloney back from suspension and it must be said that on paper they look significantly stronger. James Tamou, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Josh Mansour, Isaah Yeo… These are all quality players who have had stinking seasons so far for one reason or another.
Viliame Kikau is also there, a colossus who appears to be the Panthers’ only option in attack when they’re inside the opposition 20.
Jake Trbojevic missing this game as he prepares to play for New South Wales means Joel Thompson, Sironen and Taupau need to cut Kikau down every chance they get. If he’s contained, a lot of the Panthers’ confidence goes too.
Origin selections on top of hefty injury lists for both sides make this game a genuine lottery to pick.
Every week I look at Penrith’s line-up and almost convince myself they should win, but they’ve been so poor it’s tough to back them.
Every week I also look at Manly’s line-up and wonder how they’ll possibly win, but they’ve got a steel to them under Hasler that has been missing for years.
Manly by 6.
1. Dylan Edwards, 2. Josh Mansour, 3. Isaah Yeo, 4. Brent Naden, 5. Brian To’o, 6. Jarome Luai, 7. James Maloney, 8. James Tamou (c), 9. Sione Katoa, 10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 11. Viliame Kikau, 12. Frank Winterstein, 13. James Fisher-Harris
Interchange/Reserves: 14. Mitch Kenny, 15. Tyrell Fuimaono, 16. Moses Leota, 17. Tim Grant, 18. Hame Sele, 19. Kaide Ellis, 20. Caleb Aekins, 21. Liam Martin
1. Brendan Elliott, 2. Jorge Taufua, 3. Dylan Walker, 4. Reuben Garrick, 5. Abbas Miski, 6. Cade Cust, 7. Kane Elgey, 8. Addin Fonua-Blake, 9. Apisai Koroisau, 10. Martin Taupau, 11. Joel Thompson (c), 12. Curtis Sironen, 13. Corey Waddell
Interchange/Reserves: 14. Manase Fainu, 15. Jack Gosiewski, 16. Morgan Boyle, 17. Taniela Paseka, 18. Zach Dockar-Clay, 19. Jade Anderson
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