Championship SQUADS - 2021 Playoffs Week 1
42 mins ago | LeagueUnlimited Media
Sea Eagles flying high under the radar.
With many pundits predicting Trent Barrett was on borrowed time at Manly after the opening fortnight of the competition, the sounds of Eagle Rock are reverberating around the fortress formerly known as Brookvale once again. Currently sitting in sixth position just one win shy of their 2016 total, the Sea Eagles appear on track to make a play for the finals after downing the Raiders in an enthralling extra time thriller last Sunday. Hosting their former grand final foes, the Sea Eagles will be optimistic about their chances having claimed victory in the past six clashes dating back to 2012. In the only notable change from the squad that triumphed 21-20, journeyman Jono Wright will make his club debut for the Sea Eagles, replacing Jorge Taufua who will miss the remainder of the season after rupturing his ACL in the dying stages of last week's clash. With well over 100 first grade appearances to his name, Wright will provide reliable service on the wing, however dynamic fullback Tom Trbojevic may be in line for an early return after being named as part of an extended squad.
In a league where almost every club is capable of winning the competition, one of the notable exceptions lies in the Knights. Giving up experience to every other side in the league, there is no doubting the improvement made under coach Nathan Brown over the past 18 months, but with just two wins from 12 matches a sense of frustrated anticipation can be noted by their supporters. Returning to the scene of the match that confirmed the Knights helpless 2016 predicament, the young Newcastle squad will be hopeful of an improved showing after being thoroughly outplayed last Friday by ladder leading Storm. Winless on the northern beaches in over a decade, the Knights have made minimal changes from the side that went down 40-12 in Melbourne, with Josh King coming onto the bench in place of rookie Sam Stone. Once again, former NSW representative Trent Hodkinson has been relegated to an extended bench, where he is joined by City Origin representative Pauli Pauli who will be looking to come in for his first grade appearance of 2017.
Last meeting: Round 21 2016 - Sea Eagles 36 Knights 16
Who to watch: Change can be as good as a holiday and for Akuila Uate the move to the northern beaches has done just that. Having been demoted to reserve grade midway through last year after Newcastle coach Nathan Brown could no longer justify the former international's defensive deficiencies, the 29-year-old has rediscovered the from that saw him hailed as the best winger in the world. Forming a lethal partnership alongside Dylan Walker on the Sea Eagles right edge, the Fijian flyer will relish the chance to take on his former club and prove he still has what it takes to be among the best in the game.
He may not boast the try-scoring prowess of some of the best centres in the league, but defensively UK import Joe Wardle has stiffened up the Knights right edge considerably. Linking up from Huddersfield over the off-season, the versatile back-rower has relished the move into the backline in recent weeks, producing a series of strong showings highlighting his willingness and involvement. At 25-years-old, the Scottish international is still in the infancy of his career in the NRL, but with more game time look for Wardle to thrive and help the Knights off the bottom of the ladder.
The favourite: With four wins from their past five matches, the Sea Eagles are expected to retain the Malcolm Reilly Trophy on Friday night.
My tip: Manly have the potential to win by as many points as they want if they play to their strengths; the Knights have shown that when they execute fundamentals they can play an attacking style that can cause opponents plenty of trouble. In either case, it's difficult to see the Knights breaking an eleven-year drought at Lottoland. Manly by 12.
21. Tom Trbojevic 1. Matthew Wright 3. Dylan Walker 4. Brian Kelly 5. Akuila Uate 6. Blake Green 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Brenton Lawrence 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. Martin Taupau 11. Frank Winterstein 12. Curtis Sironen 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Lewis Brown 15. Lloyd Perrett 16. Jackson Hastings 17. Addin Fonua-blake
1. Dane Gagai 2. Ken Sio 18. Brendan Elliott 4. Peter Mata'utia 5. Nathan Ross 6. Brock Lamb 7. Jaelen Feeney 8. Daniel Saifiti 9. Danny Levi 10. Josh Starling 11. Sione Mata'utia 12. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 13. Mitchell Barnett 14. Luke Yates 15. Josh King 16. Tyler Randell 17. Jacob Saifiti
Referees: Ashley Klein, Jon Stone; Sideline Officials: Russell Turner, Jarrod Cole; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Ben Galea;