Round 17: Manly v Canberra preview
Can the Sea Eagles make a mark without Turbo and DCE?
The Manly Sea Eagles will be out to press their credentials on Thursday evening when they host the Canberra Raiders at 4 Pines Park.
Surging into premiership contention with nine wins from their past 11 matches, the Manly Sea Eagles will be out to dispel the tenacious belief that the side's fortunes rest entirely on the shoulders of Tom Trbojevic and Daly Cherry-Evans.
Coming off a short turn-around after posting a club record 66-0 victory over the last-placed Bulldogs, coach Des Hasler has been forced to revamp his squad with Reuben Garrick shifting to fullback, Moses Suli coming into the backline, Dylan Walker starting at halfback and Cade Cust returning to the side after a two month stint in reserve grade.
Holding a dominant record against the Raiders since 2017 with six wins from their previous seven meetings, the Sea Eagles have struggled in fixtures leading into Origin with a single win from their past six attempts.
Plummeting from pre-season contenders to the league's most disappointing team, the Canberra Raiders will be out to regain their dignity following a dreadful run of losses.
Hitting a new low in the wake of a 44-6 defeat on home soil against the Titans last Saturday, the Raiders have managed just two wins - against the lowly Bulldogs and Broncos - from their past 11 matches in a sign the side's long-awaited premiership window has passed.
Holding a lacklustre 33 per cent record against the Sea Eagles during coach Ricky Stuart's tenure, the side has managed 10 wins from 29 appearances on the Northern Beaches historically.
Last tasting victory at the ground formerly known as Brookvale back in 2016, the Raiders have fared strongly without their representative stars with six wins from their previous seven fixtures leading into State of Origin.
Who to watch: Flying largely under the radar during the club's resurgence this season, the Sea Eagles will need Kieran Foran to step up in the absence of their dominant playmakers. Benefitting from his latter-day supporting role at the club where he made his name, the veteran half has played without the pressures of expectation resulting in five try-assists, five forced restarts and appearing in 13 out of a possible 15 matches. Tasked with the responsibility of directing play with Cherry-Evans and Trbojevic unavailable due to State of Origin commitments, look for the premiership-winning five-eighth to wind back the clock with a performance belying the age of a man set to turn 31 next week.
Set to make his official first grade debut after a false dawn prior to Origin II, young gun Xavier Savage will be looking to stake a claim for the Raiders number one jersey. Taking the field for 11 minutes after being incorrectly activated as 18th man against the Dragons, the 19-year-old Cairns speedster will be tasked with bringing a much-needed injection of youthful exuberance to a team that has experienced an unceremonious fall from grace. Tying up his future at Canberra until the end of 2023, look for Savage's playing style to live up to his name as the Raiders eye just their sixth win of the season.
The favourite: In a contest of contrasting fortunes, the high-flying Sea Eagles are expected to feast on the out-of-form Raiders.