Round 3: Sea Eagles v Bulldogs preview
Sea Eagles and Bulldogs set for battle in closing game of season relaunch.
When these old foes run out onto Central Coast Stadium on Sunday evening, it will bring to a close arguably the most anticipated round in rugby league's rich 112 year history.
It's been little more than two months since the game was brought to a shuddering halt after two rounds of footy and these two sides will no doubt be champing at the bit after watching the 14 other sides get back onto the pitch before them.
The Sea Eagles have enjoyed an uninterrupted isolation period with little change to the playing group that opened the season with bench forwards Corey Waddell and Taniela Paseka the only new faces in the squad.
Des Hasler's men looked very solid when the season began despite being handed the toughest opening couple of rounds in the competition. Going down in a hard fought contest against the Storm in their season opener, they then managed an upset victory over the Roosters in round two. They will be looking to hit the ground running off that solid platform.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Bulldogs have had their challenges.
Back-row recruit Joe Stimson suffered a serious shoulder injury in round two with the club sending him for season-ending surgery during the break and centre Marcelo Montoya who was originally expected to return picked up a hamstring injury and will miss a further 8-12 weeks.
On top of that duo, Corey Harawera-Naera and Jayden Okunbor had their NRL contracts officially terminated during the break. Neither played the opening rounds, but their losses further stretch the clubs depth. Harawera-Naera in particular looks a big loss, being one of the few genuine attacking threats at Dean Pay's disposal.
Pay has obviously had a rethink over the last two months as he looks to guide his troops to their first win of the season and has made a shock call dropping veteran prop Aidan Tolman out of the 17 with Suaso Sue to take his place up front.
Jack Cogger has found his way into the number seven jersey at the expense of rookie Brandon Wakeham. He partners Lachlan Lewis in the halves who is expected to make way once Kieran Foran returns from injury.
Who to watch: Every man on the Bulldogs right edge will have the corner of their eye permanently glued to Sea Eagles hitman Jorge Taufua. Spending years having a front-row seat of Steve Matai's exploits, Taufua has made the art of rattling rib cages his own in recent times and will no doubt be looking for a Bulldog or two to add to his list come Sunday night.
One of the men on the Bulldogs right and probably the one most in Taufua's firing line will be former team mate Will Hopoate who will lace his boots for NRL game 150 against his former club. One of the Bulldogs most consistent performers in recent times is great on his feet and has very good footballing instincts which makes this battle out wide a very intriguing subplot in this game.
My tip: The Bulldogs showed a tonne of grit and determination as they turned a corner with some impressive performances at the back end of last year and displayed that same style in a low scoring loss to the Eels to open their season. Expect them to put up another gallant fight, but ultimately the class of Cherry-Evans and the Trbojevic brothers should see the Northern beaches boys home. Sea Eagles by 12.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles Form Guide
Yet to play this season
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles Upcoming Games
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Form Guide
Yet to play this season