Sea Eagles v Knights preview

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Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Newcastle Knights Friday 6:00pm at Lottoland

Under-siege Sea Eagles look to silence critics against Pearce-less Knights

It has been a long week for the boys from the Northern Beaches. Six players have been fined up to $10,000 for breaking the team curfew following their 32-20 loss to the Titans at Gladstone Park. Rumours have swirled about player unrest and team disharmony. These may not be true but it is up to the Sea Eagles to prove this and the only way they can do so is by turning up and winning on Friday night. A massive form reversal will be needed, however, after Trent Barrett's men slumped to their most embarrassing defeat of the year - a 44-10 loss to the previously winless Eels. Any form of resolve in defence was non-existent as the Sea Eagles conceded seven tries to a team that had managed just nine tries from their first six games. A 59% completion rate also did not help their cause. Despite boasting a highly talented line-up, Barrett has been unable to get consistency out of the Sea Eagles in 2018 and they will continue to fall down the ladder if they don't respond soon. Barrett has named an unchanged seventeen from last week's loss as injuries and a lack of established fringe players have prevented the option of making any changes.

Fortunately for the Sea Eagles, this week they come up against a Knights outfit missing arguably their most influential player. The potentially season-ending injury to Mitchell Pearce is a massive blow for both the halfback and his new club. On a personal level, it robs the former Rooster of a shot at a Blues jersey and possibly of the chance to take the Knights into the finals. For Newcastle as a club, they have lost their marquee signing and now will look to maintain their Top Eight position without him. Pearce was a joint-leader for the Knights when it came to try-assists this year with seven from just as many games. The other player with seven was fellow recruit Kalyn Ponga. Ponga has starred this year and will need to step up even more on Friday night in the absence of Pearce. Fortunately for the Knights, Connor Watson returns from injury in Pearce's place.

Last meeting: Round 1 2018 - Knights 19 Sea Eagles 18

The Knights opened their 2018 campaign with a 19-18 Golden Point win over the Sea Eagles.

Who to watch: Sea Eagles fullback Tom Trbojevic is clearly still hampered by his ankle injury but his teammates will really need him to step up on Friday night as they look to save their season. Trbojevic managed seven try-assists from his first four games of the year before missing Round 5 through injury. Since then the skilful fullback has been unable to add to his tally. The Sea Eagles desperately need some spark in attack and Trbojevic is the one who can provide it.

Meanwhile, in Pearce's absence, all eyes will be on Kalyn Ponga to ignite Newcastle's attack. Ponga has been an astute purchase for the Knights and leads the club in try-assists, line breaks, tackle busts and running metres. His ability to evade opposition defence has proven particularly impressive with Ponga averaging six tackle breaks a game. Pearce has been one of the main reasons for Newcastle's growth in attack this year. Without him, Ponga will need to inject himself into the game even more and ensure he gets his hands on the ball early.

The favourite: The Sea Eagles have lost two-straight by margins of 26 and 34 points yet they are expected to win against the Pearce-less Knights.

My tip: I have no confidence in Manly whatsoever and just cannot logically back them here despite the loss of Pearce. Knights by 4.

1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Matthew Wright 3. Dylan Walker 4. Brian Kelly 5. Akuila Uate 6. Lachlan Croker 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Addin Fonua-blake 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. Martin Taupau 11. Joel Thompson 12. Jack Gosiewski 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Lewis Brown 15. Shaun Lane 16. Lloyd Perrett 17. Taniela Paseka

1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Ken Sio 3. Sione Mata'utia 4. Nathan Ross 5. Shaun Kenny-dowall 6. Connor Watson 7. Jack Cogger 8. Herman Ese'ese 9. Slade Griffin 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Aidan Guerra 13. Mitchell Barnett 14. Jamie Buhrer 15. Chris Heighington 16. Luke Yates 17. Jacob Saifiti

Referees: Adam Gee, Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski; Sideline Officials: Rickey McFarlane, Chris McMillan; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Bryan Norrie;

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