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Finals come early as rivals clash at Bankwest
The Parramatta Eels will be looking to tune up for the finals with a strong showing against the Manly Sea Eagles at Bankwest Stadium on Friday evening
Undergoing a remarkable transformation from the side that ran last 12 months ago, the Parramatta Eels will host a qualifying final at Bankwest Stadium regardless of the outcome against Manly with a win potentially moving the side up to fifth, while a loss will see the blue and gold's remain in sixth position.
Squandering an opportunity to push for a top four finish following back-to-back losses, including a 17-16 defeat to Brisbane in golden point last Friday, coach Brad Arthur will be looking for his team to bounce back into form against the Sea Eagles having won seven of the past nine meetings.
Winning seven of nine matches played at Bankwest Stadium this season, the Eels will be determined to find form heading into their first final series since 2017 in order to make a mark in September rather than merely being content with a much-improved showing from this time last year.
With hardworking forward Nathan Brown still sidelined through suspension until next week, club veteran Tim Mannah has been granted a first grade reprieve after spending much of the year plying his trade with the Wentworthville Magpies in the Canterbury Cup NSW.
Elevating Tepai Moeroa and Ray Stone onto the bench in place of David Gower and Peni Terepo, front rower Kane Evans will cap off a career best season by making his 100th NRL appearance.
Sitting in fifth position with an outside chance of clinching a coveted top four finish, the Manly Sea Eagles will be looking to overcome adversity on the injury front by maintaining a strong record on the road in 2019.
Coming away with a number of memorable away victories - including Canberra and Melbourne over the past six weeks - coach Des Hasler will be hoping his side can overcome the devastating loss of superstar fullback Tom Trbojevic with a pectoral injury that will see him sidelined until next season.
Remaining in contention to finish fourth should South Sydney lose on Thursday evening, the worst case scenario for the Sea Eagles will be sixth should the Eels win by 12 points or more.
Recalling reliable utility Brendan Elliot for his 12th appearance at fullback this season, former Australian Schoolboys forward Sean Keppie will make his NRL debut as part of a new-look bench alongside recalled forward Lloyd Perrett.
Last meeting: Round 18 2019 - Sea Eagles 36 Eels 24
Who to watch: Coming up against the club he debuted for as a teenager six years ago, Eels captain Clinton Gutherson will be eager to leave his mark at Bankwest Stadium. Managing just five appearances during his time on the northern beaches, the 24-year-old "King" of Parramatta has become a fan favourite in a short space of time, while earning plaudits for his on-field performances to boot. Missing the Eels' finals campaign two years ago with an ACL tear, look for Gutherson to revel in the occasion of Friday night as the blue and gold's ready themselves for only their second appearance in September since featuring in the premiership decider a decade ago.
Shifting to the number six jersey when the two sides last faced off seven weeks ago, Dylan Walker will be out to continue his strong form heading into the business end of the season. Enduring a tumultuous year featuring a nine-week stint on the sidelines after falling foul of the NRL's no-fault stand-down policy, the 24-year-old has formed an effective halves partnership with Daly Cherry-Evans having struggled to adjust to the role in the past. Set to pen a lucrative extension with the Sea Eagles in the coming weeks, look for Walker to display the class that saw him reach the heights of rugby league with a starring performance on Friday evening.
The favourite: With the Sea Eagles reeling with a mounting injury toll, the Eels are expected to capitalise upon their long-standing rivals
My tip: With both teams set to host qualifying finals next week, the Eels should kick on in the closing stages to secure a low-scoring victory. Eels by 8.
1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Michael Jennings 4. Waqa Blake 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Kane Evans 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Manu Ma'u 15. Daniel Alvaro 13. Marata Niukore 14. Brad Takairangi 16. Ray Stone 17. Tepai Moeroa
1. Brendan Elliot 2. Jorge Taufua 3. Brad Parker 4. Moses Suli 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Dylan Walker 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Addin Fonua-Blake 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. Martin Taupau 17. Taniela Paseka 12. Curtis Sironen 13. Jake Trbojevic 11. Corey Waddell 14. Manase Fainu 15. Sean Keppie 16. Lloyd Perrett
Referees: Gerard Sutton, Phil Henderson; Sideline Officials: Todd Smith, Jeff Younis; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Ben Galea;