Historic rivals chase a fresh start.
Enduring a rebuilding year few predicted in 2016, the Sea Eagles will be hoping a further twelve months under coach Trent Barrett brings about a return to the successes of the not-too-distant past. Finishing last season on the back of a five game losing streak, the Sea Eagles will look to get off to a strong start in front of their home fans at the newly renamed Lottoland.
Naming a side featuring several new signings including Akuila Uate, Blake Green, Curtis Sironen and Lloyd Perrett, Manly supporters will be hoping an injection of new faces helps bring an end to the Eels run of five consecutive wins in clashes dating back to 2014. Among the youngsters making their first appearances for the Sea Eagles on Sunday, former Titans lower grader Brian Kelly will make his NRL debut in centres, beating out competition from Matthew Wright and Jonathan Wright.
With club legend Jamie Lyon hanging up the boots and fellow Manly icons Brett Stewart and Steve Matai set to follow suit in the near future, the new look Sea Eagles will face an uphill climb, but with the likes of the Trbojevic brothers leading the way, supporters may well be doing the Eagle Rock throughout the year.
Having been through hell and back last year, the Eels will be out to prove their credentials as a legitimate team in 2017. Denied an opportunity to feature in September due to salary cap breaches, Brad Arthur's charges showed incredible resilience to stand up, despite numerous hurdles offering the side an easy way out.
Forced to part ways with Nathan Peats, Junior Paulo and Kieran Foran in acrimonious circumstances, the Eels will boast several new faces including Kiwi trio Josh Hoffman, Suaia Matagi and Frank Pritchard, as well as former Souths tearaway Nathan Brown. After much discussion throughout the off-season regarding the decision to operate with a single hooker, youngster Kaysa Pritchard has beaten out more-experienced rivals Isaac De Gois and Cameron King for the number nine role, however King may still feature on Sunday after being included as part of the extended 21-man squad.
Among the other notable inclusions for Parramatta, playmaker Corey Norman will make his return from suspension at halfback, while Bevan French, fresh from a starring performance for the Indigenous All Stars, will start the year at fullback after announcing himself to the NRL with 19 tries in 13 matches in his rookie season.
Who to watch: Handed the honour of captaincy in the wake of Jamie Lyon's retirement, Sea Eagles halfback Daly Cherry-Evans will be hopeful that newfound responsibility brings with it success. Burdened by injury and irregular halves partners throughout 2016, the former representative playmaker should relish the opportunity to play alongside new signing Blake Green, allowing the 28-year-old to focus on making Manly great again. Having fallen out of favour with representative selectors and by his own admission performing below his standards in recent years, a strong start to the year could see DCE's personal stocks rise dramatically, while propelling the Sea Eagles back into contenders.
Heralded as the heir apparent to Brett Stewart during his early years on the Northern Beaches, former Manly utility Clinton Gutherson will be hoping to make his mark as a playmaker in 2017. Named to partner Corey Norman in the halves, the 22-year-old five-eighth showed his class when shifted closer to the action towards the end of last season, with his skill directing play adding a new dimension to his try-scorer reputation. Adding further responsibility on his shoulders, Gutherson is also set to handle the goal-kicking duties for the Eels, following the departure of Michael Gordon over the off-season. Penning a new three-year extension in the days before Christmas, look for the newfound stability and security to bring out the best in Gutherson, as the Eels fight to return to the finals for the first time in seven years.
My tip: With some classy acquisitions and the support of a vocal home crowd, look for the Sea Eagles to kick-start their 2017 campaign with a win. Sea Eagles by 12.
1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Jorge Taufua 3. Dylan Walker 4. Brian Kelly 5. Akuila Uate 6. Blake Green 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Brenton Lawrence 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. Martin Taupau 11. Frank Winterstein 12. Curtis Sironen 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Lewis Brown 15. Nate Myles 16. Addin Fonua-blake 17. Lloyd Perrett
1. Bevan French 2. Semi Radradra 3. Michael Jennings 4. Brad Takairangi 5. Josh Hoffman 6. Clint Gutherson 7. Corey Norman 8. Suaia Matagi 9. Kaysa Pritchard 10. Tim Mannah 11. Manu Ma'u 12. Tepai Moeroa 13. Beau Scott 14. Nathan Brown 15. Daniel Alvaro 16. Rory O'Brien 17. Frank Pritchard