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One fullback to rule them all.
So much has changed in the months since the Manly Sea Eagles and the Sydney Roosters faced off in the opening round of the season.
Having languished at the bottom of the ladder following four losses to start the year, the return of Tom Trbojevic has seen the Sea Eagles surge into the top four off the back of a potent brand of attacking football. In contrast, the Roosters have stood firm in the face of a catastrophic toll of injuries and mid-season retirements that would have broken sides lacking the leadership of James Tedesco.
Facing off for the ninth time in finals football - the Sea Eagles hold a slender 63 per cent advantage - a chance to take on the Rabbitohs awaits the winner of Friday night's Semi Final in Mackay.
Hoping to make the most of a second chance by virtue of finishing in fourth position, the Manly Sea Eagles will be out to make amends for a poor showing in the opening week of the play-offs. Suffering a humbling 40-12 defeat at the hands of the Storm last Friday, coach Des Hasler will be hoping to avoid the mistakes of the Storm (2013), Sea Eagles (2014), Eels (2017 and 2020) and Roosters (2020) in bowing out of the finals with back-to-back losses in the years since the current finals system was adopted.
Welcoming back much-improved hooker Lachlan Croker from a back injury, utility Karl Lawton reverts to the bench with Curtis Sironen dropping to the extended squad. Veteran front-rower Martin Taupau will make his 200th first grade appearance, while utility Dylan Walker will play his 100th game for the club.
Managing to move into week two of the finals by the skin of their teeth, the Sydney Roosters will be out to continue a strong record against their rivals from the northern beaches. Holding off a fast-finishing Titans side to secure a 25-24 victory in Townsville, coach Trent Robinson will be looking for greater attention to detail from his players after witnessing a number of critical errors during last week's Elimination Final.
Winning four of their past five matches against the Sea Eagles, coach Robinson has been forced into changes with Nat Butcher coming into the side in place of Siosiua Taukeiaho, while Drew Hutchison and Lachlan Lam will switch jerseys between halfback and five-eighth respectively. Ben Marschke is expected to come into the side at hooker after Sam Verrills failed in his bid to downgrade a careless high tackle charge at the judiciary on Tuesday evening.
Friday night marks the first time the two sides have met in a finals match since the 2013 Grand Final; Kieran Foran, Daly Cherry-Evans, Daniel Tupou and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves are the surviving players from the match. Jake Trbojevic and Isaac Liu missed out on playing in the premiership decider after debuting for their respective clubs earlier in the same year.
Who to watch: Producing a mesmerising season of individual brilliance to all but guarantee the Dally M Medal in a fortnight's time, Manly superstar Tom Trbojevic won't be content to go out with a whimper in finals football. Nullified to great effect by the Storm last week, the 24-year-old Mona Vale junior will be out to make amends with a performance more in keeping with what fans have come to expect in 2021. Recording unheard of numbers during the season with 25 tries, 27 try-assists, 30 line breaks and 107 tackle breaks, Trbojevic will need to be at his best if the Sea Eagles hope to move within 80 minutes of the premiership decider.
Regarded as the premier number one in a league stacked with first class fullbacks, James Tedesco has further enhanced his reputation with leadership qualities few envisioned upon his introduction to first grade. Developing from a rookie possessing a violent running style to a proven performer equally adept at setting up and scoring tries, the 28-year-old has remained a pillar of consistency for the Roosters despite more than 1,200 games of experience being unavailable for selection. Enjoying a strong season with nine tries, 16 line break, 21 try-assists and 141 tackle breaks, a strong showing from Tedesco will go a long way towards the Roosters booking a seventh preliminary final appearance in nine years
Favourite: The higher ranked Sea Eagles are expected to bounce back following a Qualifying Final defeat - as has been the case in 72 per cent of Semi Finals since 2012
My tip: While the Sea Eagles will need to address the shock of last week's loss, the class of Tom Trbojevic should be too much for a Roosters side all but out of fuel. Manly by 14.
1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Jason Saab 3. Brad Parker 4. Morgan Harper 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Kieran Foran 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Josh Aloiai 9. Lachlan Croker 16. Sean Keppie 11. Haumole Olakau'atu 12. Josh Schuster 13. Jake Trbojevic 10. Martin Taupau 14. Dylan Walker 15. Karl Lawton 17. Taniela Paseka 19. Moses Suli
1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Josh Morris 4. Adam Keighran 5. Matt Ikuvalu 6. Lachlan Lam 7. Drew Hutchison 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 20. Ben Marschke 10. Isaac Liu 11. Angus Crichton 12. Sitili Tupouniua 13. Victor Radley 14. Sam Walker 15. Nat Butcher 16. Egan Butcher 17. Fletcher Baker 18. Dale Copley
Referees: Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials: Dave Munro, Todd Smith; Video Referees: Ashley Klein;