Round 20: Warriors v Sea Eagles preview
Warriors and Sea Eagles to Each Have One Last Roll of the Dice Before Mad Monday
Both these teams have yielded similar outcomes in season 2020, however the Warriors will be much more satisfied with their ladder position than Manly. Pre-season, many pundits thought the Warriors would be lucky to avoid the wooden spoon, an opinion which grew in viability once it was announced that kiwi side would have to stay in Australia due to COVID-19. The Warriors showed a tremendous degree of resilience that has them sitting 12th on the premiership table (equal 10th but down due to for and against) and their finals hopes were only dashed a couple of weeks ago.
2020 has been a huge disappointment for the Manly Sea Eagles. They were seen by many as a dark horse for the premiership, if not at least making the top 8. Injuries to key players, among other things, has meant that Manly are in 11th position and have only won 2 out of their last 9 matches, a far cry from the title contenders they were expected to be.
The winner of this clash can finish as high as 9th pending other results, while the loser could sink to 13th. The Warriors will draw confidence from the fact that when these sides met earlier in the year, they were able to grind out a 4-point victory away from home, while Manly have won 2 of their last 3 matches at Central Coast Stadium.
The Warriors will be without inspirational captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck who succumbed to injury last week. He is replaced at the back by Peta Hiku, who last played the custodian role in Round 6 last year. Hayze Perham moves from the wing to the centres and Patrick Herbert is back in the side to accommodate. Eliesa Katoa is back and will start in the back row, pushing Jack Murchie to the bench and Josh Curran out of the side. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown also returns via the interchange, replacing Tom Ale.
Tevita Funa is at fullback for the Sea Eagles, replacing Tom Trbojevic who unfortunately got injured again in his return game. Abbas Miski covers Funa's wing while Reuben Garrick is back from injury, pushing Albert Hopoate to the bench. Taniela Paseka will move from the bench to the starting side in a direct swap with Morgan Boyle, while Bulldogs bound back rower Corey Waddell will start and Jack Gosiewski drops out. Gun Manly front-rower Addin Fonua-Blake signed with the Warriors during the week in an event that could perhaps increase the feeling in this one. The official reason for Fonua-Blake moving on was "family reasons," however there have been some whispers that the Manly playing group think there are more financial motivations at play. Unfortunately, Fonua-Blake will miss this one due to injury, but in the corresponding fixture next year look out for the Manly big men to target AFB.
Who to watch: Peta Hiku has been picked as the stand in custodian in Roger Tuivasa-Sheck's absence, however the New Zealand international isn't short on experience playing in the number 1 jumper. He debuted as a fullback with Manly in 2013 and he didn't do a bad job, guiding the team to a semi-final victory. Brett Stewart returned for the Grand Final that year, however he had shown enough to remain in the team at centre for 2014 and 15, where he found a home. Look for Hiku to tap into some of the form that established him as a first grader against his former team.
Taniela Paseka will start for the Sea Eagles in place of the injured Fonua-Blake and look to press his claims for the number 8 jersey in 2021. When he last started for Manly, against the Knights in Round 14, Paseka had 14 runs for an incredible 160 metres while also picking up 3 tackle breaks, a line break and, incredible for a big man, 2 try assists. Manly fans will be hoping Paseka can garner a similar performance and take it to a strong Warriors pack.
My tip: For a team that carried so much expectation this year and finished 2019 so strongly, Manly have been nothing short of terrible this season. While fans and commentators may point to injury as an excuse, the Sea Eagles have only used 27 players in 2020, the second least of any NRL team. Compare them to the Warriors, who couldn't name 21 fit players last week but have still looked more promising, and it's clear which team has the higher morale and better performance, and I'll be tipping accordingly. Warriors by 8.