Round 20 of the NRL gets underway with a clash between the Manly Sea Eagles and the Sydney Roosters and a place in finals at the end of the season is on the line.
The race to secure eighth spot is tighter than ever. The Roosters currently occupy it as they sit on 20 points, but the Sea Eagles, Canberra Raiders and St George Illawarra Dragons are level on points with them.
Every game is crucial and it does not get much bigger for the Sea Eagles and Roosters on Thursday night.
They have played each other on 37 occasions and it is Manly that hold a slight advantage when winning 20 of them, compared to Sydney’s 17.
The build-up to the game has been shrouded in controversy and a number of Manly players will not take to the pitch. It means coach Des Hasler will have to field a weakened side and that will only boost the Rooster’s chances of closing that gap.
Although it could of course have the opposite effect and galvanise the rest of the Sea Eagles camp.
Either way it will be a relief to finally get the game underway. It is a big one for both sides so let’s take a closer look at the team news and form heading into the clash.
What: Manly Sea Eagles v Sydney Roosters
Where: 4 Pines Park, Sydney
When: 19:50 (AEST) Thursday 28th July 2022
How to watch: Channel 9, Kayo, Foxtel
Odds: Sea Eagles 11/2, Roosters 11/100
The form book goes out of the window this week as the Sea Eagles attempt to defeat the Roosters and boost their chances of playing finals.
Manly had won four out of the last six games, beating the Melbourne Storm and just missing out against the North Queensland Cowboys.
They slipped to a disappointing 20-6 defeat against the Dragons last week, but the majority of the players involved in that game will not take to the pitch against the Roosters. Therefore it is impossible to predict how the Sea Eagles will go against the Roosters.
Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Tolutau Koula, Josh Aloiai, Haumole Olakau'atu, Toafofoa Sipley and Josh Schuster have all ruled themselves out of the game due to personal beliefs.
It means a host of rookies will come into the fold. Pio Seci and Alfred Smalley will make their debuts on the wing, while prop Kurt de Luis and second-rower Ethan Bullemor will also play.
Just to make matters worse Sean Keppie has failed to recover from a shoulder injury and has also been ruled out.
It is not all bad news for the Sea Eagles though. Star forward Jake Trbojevic, hooker Lachlan Croker and back-rower Andrew Davey all come back into the side after missing last weekend’s clash against the Dragons.
Manly may be missing a host of players but they still have bags of quality in the side and they will be relying heavily on their halves to help them get the job done.
Skipper Daly Cherry-Evans will be as influential as ever in the No.7 jersey but his halves partner Kieran Foran also has a huge role to play.
The No.6 has produced nine try assists this season along with 14 line break assists. Not only that his defence has been outstanding.
His clash against opposite number Luke Keary will have a huge impact on who wins this game.
Trent Robinson’s biggest job this week could be keeping his players focused on the job in hand and ensuring complacency does not creep in.
It will have been hard for them to ignore the hype and they know they are up against a weakened Sea Eagles side. But upsets do happen and the Roosters have to make sure they are switched on.
Their own form has been patchy and they had lost three games on the bounce before responding well with back-to-back wins against the Knights and Dragons.
They have tough games against the Broncos and Cowboys to come so Thursday night’s clash is a must-win for them.
The Roosters have been dogged by injury issues this season but the return of Keary is a huge boost for them.
The No.6 was a revelation when returning from concussion issues against the Knights last week. He chipped in with a try and an assist and showed how important he is to the side.
Robinson is also boosted by the return of star centre Joey Manu, who has recovered from a quad injury, and prop forward Lindsay Collins who missed out last week through concussion.