Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles preview
3 hours ago | Tim Costello
Warriors look to break woeful record against desperate Sea Eagles
Having come from behind to record a fortuitous extra time win over the Warriors during their last venture across the Tasman, the Sea Eagles have been a far cry from the team that featured in the finals last year. Using more players than any other side in the competition with half a season left to play, the off-field issues that have plagued Manly since the end of 2017 have masked larger concerns in need of addressing. Ahead of only Newcastle and the Gold Coast for points conceded, defensive lapses have prevented the side from turning narrow losses into wins with three matches decided by two points or less going against the club already this season. Naming New South Wales representatives Tom and Jake Trbojevic in the side to play three days after the Origin series opener, coach Trent Barrett has responded to the suspension of forward Jack Gosweiski by recalling imposing rookie Taniela Paseka on the bench. Holding a resounding record against the Warriors with 13 wins from the past 14 clashes dating back to the start of the decade, the Sea Eagles will be hoping history repeats on Saturday in an effort to remain in contention for matches beyond the regular season.
In the years since the Warriors last played finals football, ironically against the Sea Eagles in the 2011 decider, the middle third of the season has been the side's most prosperous in advancing up the ladder. Already placed in fourth position after claiming more victories than the entirety of last year, coach Stephen Kearney will be hopeful of edging closer to a return to the play-offs, but will need to overcome a horror record against their weekend opponents. Going down in the past seven meetings and holding their second worst success rate against any current team at just 26%, the prospect of remaining on home soil has been more of a hindrance than help in recent times, having lost four of the past five ‘away' games played in New Zealand. Gaining a major boost with halfback Shaun Johnson named to return from injury in what corresponds as his 150th appearance in the NRL, young second rower Isaiah Papalii will return to the starting side after missing the loss to South Sydney a fortnight ago. With a host of negative omens weighing the side's chances down, a recent trend could prove pivotal for the Warriors as they look to continue a win-loss record that dates back two months; returning from the bye after finishing on the wrong side of the scoreboard, if form is any indication the Warriors should feel confident in leaving Christchurch with two competition points.
Last meeting: Round 25 2017 - Warriors 21 Sea Eagles 22
Who to watch: Having been let go by the Tigers and Bulldogs for poor work ethic, highly-rated youngster Moses Suli appears to have found his feet on the Northern Beaches. Signed on a big money deal before he had even debuted in first grade, a combination of factors including initial success, resilience in overcoming injury and contending with the pressures of stardom at a young age saw the Tongan representative face considerable scrutiny over the off-season. Joining the under-siege Sea Eagles by way of the club's feeder arrangement with Blacktown, the lack of external attention on him has been to the benefit of everyone involved. Turning 20 on game day, the powerful outside back has been among Manly's best performers since being elevated into the top squad five weeks ago and will be eager to secure his place in first grade for the remainder of the season.
Of all the players capable of performing aerobic acts of brilliance on a rugby league field, few are as naturally gifted as Warriors flyer David Fusitua. Currently averaging a try per game in 2018, the Tongan and New Zealand international has regularly contorted his body in ways thought impossible, but as he has demonstrated time and again since his introduction into the NRL four years ago, the 23-year-old has a rare talent for finding the try line while showing little regard for the degree of difficulty involved in placing the ball on the turf. Already equalling his try tally in half as many appearance as last season, the Warriors right winger may not boast the raw size or power as predecessors Francis Meli or Manu Vatuvei, but if current form is to be believed, Fusitua may well end up surpassing the feats of both men by the time his career comes to a close.
The favourite: Sitting inside the top four following an impressive opening to 2018, the Warriors are expected to account for the ‘home' team.
My tip: For as promising as the Warriors have been over the opening 13 rounds, there is a sense of anticipation that as they have done in every season since they faced off against Manly in the 2011 Grand Final, things will inevitably collapse. Facing off against the struggling Sea Eagles, the New Zealanders should prove too strong on Saturday, but with past performances often serving as strong indicators for things to come, the bubble may be about to burst for Stephen Kearney's side. Warriors by 4.
1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Jorge Taufua 19. Brad Parker 4. Brian Kelly 5. Akuila Uate 6. Trent Hodkinson 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Addin Fonua-blake 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. Martin Taupau 11. Joel Thompson 12. Shaun Lane 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Matthew Wright 15. Toafofoa Sipley 16. Frank Winterstein 17. Taniela Paseka
3. Peta Hiku 2. David Fusitua 18. Gerard Beale 4. Solomone Kata 5. Ken Maumalo 6. Blake Green 7. Shaun Johnson 8. James Gavet 9. Issac Luke 10. Agnatius Paasi 11. Isaiah Papalii 12. Tohu Harris 13. Adam Blair 14. Karl Lawton 15. Chris Satae 16. Bunty Afoa 17. Simon Mannering
Referees: Chris Sutton, Gavin Reynolds; Sideline Officials: Clayton Sharpe, Chris McMillan; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Ben Galea;