Full Time
7:50pm Sat September 14, 2019
Finals Week 1 - Lottoland - Crowd: 15495

Finals Week 1: Sea Eagles v Sharks preview

Traditional foes clash in elimination play-off

The Manly Sea Eagles will look to keep their premiership aspirations alive on Saturday evening as they host the Cronulla Sharks in an elimination final at Lottoland.

Returning to September football in sixth position following a 32-16 loss to Parramatta last Friday, the Manly Sea Eagles will be determined to overcome a mounting list of unavailable players due to injury and suspension in order to extend their season beyond the first week of the play-offs.

Gaining the necessary approval to host a legitimate home finals match for the first time in 11 years after addressing concerns regarding traces of asbestos, coach Des Hasler will look to instil to siege mentality into his players as he strives to maintain his slender positive record in finals football having won 14/25 matches previously.

Winning 16 of their past 18 matches against the Sharks dating back to 2008, the Sea Eagles hold a similarly impressive record in finals football with seven wins and a draw from nine meetings - including two grand final wins during the 1970s.

Decimated by injury and suspension, Kiwi enforcer Martin Taupau will miss the do-or-die clash after accepting a one-match ban for a careless high tackle, while Curtis Sironen and Taniela Paseka will join the likes of Tom Trbojevic, Joel Thompson and Morgan Boyle on the sidelines.

Managing to field 21 players after being granted an exemption to name former premiership winner Tony Williams, prop Toafofoa Sipley will make an unexpected return after sustaining a knee injury believed to be season-ending during Magic Round, while highly rated youngster Haumole Olakau'atu is set to become the first player to debut in the finals since Kalyn Ponga for the Cowboys three years ago.

Clinching seventh position after downing the Tigers 25-8 in front of a hostile Leichardt Oval crowd last Sunday, the Cronulla Sharks will need to record a rare win on the northern beaches to remain in contention for the premiership.

Holding a dismal record at Lottoland with just six wins from 46 visits going back to the club's inaugural season in 1967, coach John Morris will be up against the odds in his finals debut with captain Paul Gallen the only current player to experience victory at the ground in a Sharks jersey.

Looking to become the fifth side in eight years to progress through to the second week of the finals after finishing the regular season in seventh position, the Sharks will rate their chances on Saturday night with the impact provided by their bench set to make an immense difference as was the case in last week's win over the Tigers.

Largely unaffected by injuries unlike their opponents, Aaron Gray has been named to return in place of rookie Ronaldo Mulitalo (suspension), however Matt Moylan remains an outside chance of coming into the final 17 after being named as part of the extended squad.

Last meeting: Round 10 2019 - Sharks 14 Sea Eagles 24

Who to watch: Facing the toughest assignment of his young NRL career, Jake Trbojevic will be need to be at his best to get the wounded Sea Eagles over the line on Saturday evening. Tasked with the job of laying a platform for a side missing half a dozen regular first graders, the 25-year-old has developed into the heart and soul of Manly in recent times with his throwback defensive technique and tireless work-rate with-and-without the ball. Facing off against one of the form forward packs in the competition, look for Trbojevic to put his body on the line to get the Sea Eagles into their first semi final in five years.

Set to turn 19 in the lead up to Saturday's must-win clash, Bronson Xerri will be out to make his mark as the youngest player to feature in this year's finals series. Among the leading contenders to claim Rookie of the Year honours, the Aquinas Colts' junior has been a shining light for John Morris this season, providing a game-breaking level of speed that will prove invaluable in the Sharks' bid to progress through to the semi finals. Averaging well over 100 metres to go with 12 tries in 21 appearances, look for Xerri to provide the visitors with the spark needed to help the Sharks record their first finals win over the Sea Eagles in 41 years.

The favourite: Coming off an emotional win last Sunday and facing a severely understrength team, the Sharks are fancied to pull off a rare win at the ground formerly known as Brookvale Oval.

My tip: Possessing a vastly superior forward pack and six members of the 2016 premiership winning team, expect the Sharks to bring the Sea Eagles' season to a close on Saturday evening. Sharks by 13.

Outcome: The winner will face the loser of the Roosters v Rabbitohs qualifying final.