For the first time this season the Sea Eagles will head into Friday night’s top-four clash against the Roosters as competition front-runners following their thumping of Cronulla last weekend.
The comprehensive 26-point victory saw Manly leapfrog Penrith into top spot on the NRL ladder, but with a number of clubs in hot pursuit, the Sea Eagles can ill afford to slip up against last year’s premiers.
A loss on Friday night could see the Sea Eagles drop as low as fifth, illustrating just how close this year’s competition is. A victory is likely to keep Manly in first position, with the Panthers equal on competition points.
Despite losing all four matches against the Roosters last season, the Sea Eagles were able to avenge thier 2013 grand final heartache with a gritty 8-0 win at Allianz Stadium in Round 4.
The victory, a demonstration of Manly’s never-say-die attitude, eased some pain, but the team will need to produce a similar performance in order to preserve their ascendency at the top of the ladder.
After an ordinary start to the season, the Roosters are slowly starting to replicate the form that saw them take out last year’s title. Having won their past four matches, the Bondi boys rightfully remain competition favourites.
Halves pairing James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce have been nothing short of outstanding since missing out on NSW Origin selection. They’ve found the spark which has helped their side climb back into the top-four.
The Tri-colours are poised to make a charge into the finals, similar to what they did last year, where they won eight straight games approaching the finals series.
Trent Robinson’s men have the best attacking record in the competition, having scored 41 more points than Manly’s 290 points for the season.
However, defensively the Sea Eagles hold a slightly better record, conceding just 212 points, five lower than the Roosters.
The always-formidable defensive line of the Sea Eagles will be tested on Friday night, with the likes of Sonny Bill Williams, Boyd Cordner and Aidan Guerra set to run unbendable lines in a bid to break the Manly wall.
The Sea Eagles will look to exploit the Roosters’ left edge without star centre Michael Jennings. The loss leaves a big whole in the Roosters’ armour and Manly’s right edge attack will look to target whoever fills the void.