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‘Beaches be trippin' as Sharks host Sea Eagles
Displaying the credentials that saw them hoist the premiership trophy on Grand Final night last year, the Sharks were fortunate to come away with two competition points against the Tigers, but against an ever improving Manly outfit will need to lift their game. Playing at home for the fifth consecutive match, Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan will be looking to rally his charges as they fight to combat an abysmal record over their historic rivals which has seen them manage just two wins from the past 15 clashes. Set to welcome back all their NSW Origin representatives pending the outcome of Wednesday's fixture, Kurt Capewell and Daniel Mortimer have been rewarded for their impressive displays by retaining their places on the bench in place of Sam Tagaetese and Joseph Paulo. Currently sitting in third position, the Sharks have lived up to expectations of reigning premiers, however the manner in which they managed to claim last weekend's victory could leave the Sharks susceptible for an upset loss. In a milestone worthy of celebration, vice-captain Wade Graham is set to feature in his 150th game for the club after joining from Penrith in 2011.
Surprising many with a host of unexpected wins in 2017, the Manly Sea Eagles appear to be moving back towards their status as one of the NRL elite after a tumultuous rebuilding phase. Claiming a controversial win in torrential circumstances a fortnight ago, a refreshed Manly side will be out to ambush the reigning premiers as they strive to return to the top four for the first time since the likes of Anthony Watmough and Glenn Stewart wore the Maroon and White. Taking note of the mobility of the Cronulla side, Sea Eagles coach Trent Barrett has opted to bring in Darcy Lussick on the bench in place of Jackson Hastings, who was forced to spend the entire 80 minutes on the bench for the second time this season. Retaining an otherwise unchanged squad, the Sea Eagles have been historically strong at Southern Cross Group Stadium over the past decade with seven wins from nine appearances, including wins at the venue in both their premiership successes.
Who to watch: After debuting for the Black, White and Blue back in 2013, reliable flyer Sosaia Feki will bring up 100 games on Sunday. Signed from the illustrious Warriors Under 20s squad after claiming consecutive titles, the Tongan representative has been a mainstay of a Sharks side that has risen from the ashes of the infamous peptides scandal. Consistent with his work rate and ability to cross the tryline, the 26-year-old faces a tantalising personal duel against the rejuvenated Akuila Uate, while also looking to make a statement to New Zealand coach David Kidwell for inclusion in the Kiwis World Cup squad.
Making his first grade debut in the opening round of the season, 21-year-old Brian Kelly has been among the most promising performers in the Sea Eagles resurgence. Taking over the mantle of club legend Steve Matai, the former Gold Coast lower grader has displayed pace and skill in his rookie season, including a promising showing in his representative call up for Country. Facing off against NSW utility Jack Bird on Sunday afternoon, Kelly can expect plenty of traffic alongside former Cronulla first grader Matthew Wright, however should the Manly number four rise to the occasion the Sea Eagles may go a long way towards claiming two competition points at the end of 80 minutes.
My tip: This shapes as a litmus test for both sides. For the Sharks, can they make a statement against a rapidly improving foe? For the Sea Eagles, are they the real deal in 2017? It may seem strange, but Manly are back in 2017. Sea Eagles by 7.
1. Valentine Holmes 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Jack Bird 4. Ricky Leutele 5. Gerard Beale 6. James Maloney 7. Chad Townsend 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Jayden Brailey 14. Jayson Bukuya 11. Luke Lewis 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen 10. Matt Prior 15. Chris Heighington 16. Kurt Capewell 17. Daniel Mortimer
1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Matthew Wright 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. Lloyd Perrett 16. Darcy Lussick 17. Addin Fonua-blake