FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS - Round 25
As we now venture into the final two weeks of the season, the only games that seem to matter are those concerning the teams at the top and those at the bottom. For the contestants in one of these games tonight the chance of a minor premiership is at stake, while in the other a team trying to avoid their first wooden spoon in almost 50 years will clash with one who is trying to end their disappointing season on a high note. One will have an important influence on the finals series, while the other is being played out purely for pride.
MANLY SEA EAGLES VS MELBOURNE STORM
This clash between Manly and Melbourne is shaping up to be the match of the regular season. Situated in the top two positions on the ladder, the Sea Eagles and the Storm have been the form sides of the competition over the last 24 rounds.
There's a great rivalry between these two teams and while they might be playing down the significance of this game's outcome, whoever wins this game will feel like they have a psychological edge going into the finals. It may not always make a difference come September though: back in 2008, Melbourne prevailed 16-10 at Brookvale Oval in the season's latter rounds, only to be thrashed 40-0 by the same side on Grand Final Day.
Manly are cruising along nicely and will welcome the fact that Melbourne's 12-game winning streak has helped them perform in coach Des Hasler's favourite state: under the radar.
Melbourne were solid without being spectacular last Friday against the Dragons and a lot of that can be put down to the absence of injured halfback Cooper Cronk. Cronk will most likely miss this game as well, which means the Storm need to lift their game a lot more than last week. In Gareth Widdop the Storm have a handy replacement, but last week they prevailed by only two points against a side coming off four losses in a row and lacking in confidence. Manly have got plenty of self-belief.
Perhaps the most important aspect to take into this game is the fact that Manly has been losing at half time the last two weeks, only to surge home strongly and ultimately win each match. Melbourne has made a good habit of holding onto a lead once they have claimed one this season, but if any side can really rattle their cage and challenge them to the very end, it's Manly. You don't need to hear it from me to know this game will be a cracker.
PARRAMATTA EELS VS SYDNEY ROOSTERS
The Roosters have now strung together two gutsy wins in a row without Todd Carney and Nate Myles. Perhaps this has galvanised the team into finally firing, but it's too little, too late. At least they're giving the fans a gutsy finish.
For a team that's supposedly having a disastrous season, the Roosters only sit three wins outside the top eight. They have a chance to close that gap against the Eels.
The Eels have had a season to forget. They're now sitting last on the ladder and need to win here to avoid the wooden spoon. This is a team that needs to forget about the past and just dig in for the next two rounds; at least that way their season will be noted down as a poor one rather than a wooden-spoon winning result.
It may lack the intensity of the Manly-Melbourne encounter, but this game still holds importance in the eyes of those taking part.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS - Round 25