The Tigers surprised everyone with the fast start last season and were still right in top contention in the final weeks before falling by the wayside and finishing ninth with a 12-12 record.
The biggest change in the off-season was in the coach's chair, with Michael Maguire appointed as Ivan Cleary's successor.
There's a liberal sprinkling of talent and experience throughout the squad but there doesn't appear to be much room for error for this team and a finals berth would be an over-achievement.
The Sea Eagles lurched from one crisis to another last year and were one of the season's most disappointing teams.
Des Hasler has returned as coach and Manly fans are hoping he weaves some of his old magic.
Match: Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles
Round 1 -
Venue: Leichhardt Oval
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Wests Tigers: Coach Michael Maguire has stuck with the 17 players he named on Tuesday, with Josh Reynolds and Matt Eisenhuth both cut from the reserves an hour prior to kick-off. Moses Mbye (knee) and David Nofoaluma (shoulder) are out, with Corey Thompson starting at fullback. Mahe Fonua and new signing Robert Jennings are on the wings. Former Roosters Paul Momirovski and Ryan Matterson both start, while Luke Garner replaces Chris Lawrence (broken jaw) in the second row. Young prop Thomas Mikaele will debut off the bench. Jacob Liddle and Chris McQueen were omitted from Maguire's squad on Friday.
Sea Eagles: The Sea Eagles are also 1-17, with Brendan Elliot replacing Tom Trbojevic (hamstring, round three) at fullback and Reuben Garrick to debut on the wing. Kane Elgey is Daly Cherry-Evans' new halves partner, with Trent Hodkinson named on the interchange. Cade Cust and Lloyd Perrett were omitted an hour before kick-off, while Tevita Funa and Lachlan Croker were dropped from the extended bench on Friday.
Match: Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles
Round 1 -
Fullback for Wests Tigers is number 1 Corey ThompsonFullback for Sea Eagles is number 1 Brendan Elliot
Winger for Wests Tigers is number 2 Mahe FonuaWinger for Sea Eagles is number 2 Jorge Taufua
Centre for Wests Tigers is number 3 Paul MomirovskiCentre for Sea Eagles is number 3 Moses Suli
Centre for Wests Tigers is number 4 Esan MarstersCentre for Sea Eagles is number 4 Brad Parker
Winger for Wests Tigers is number 5 Robert JenningsWinger for Sea Eagles is number 5 Reuben Garrick
Five-Eighth for Wests Tigers is number 6 Benji MarshallFive-Eighth for Sea Eagles is number 6 Kane Elgey
Halfback for Wests Tigers is number 7 Luke BrooksHalfback for Sea Eagles is number 7 Daly Cherry-Evans
Prop for Wests Tigers is number 8 Ben MatulinoProp for Sea Eagles is number 8 Addin Fonua-Blake
Hooker for Wests Tigers is number 9 Robbie FarahHooker for Sea Eagles is number 9 Apisai Koroisau
Prop for Wests Tigers is number 10 Alex TwalProp for Sea Eagles is number 10 Martin Taupau
2nd Row for Wests Tigers is number 11 Ryan Matterson2nd Row for Sea Eagles is number 11 Joel Thompson
2nd Row for Wests Tigers is number 12 Luke Garner2nd Row for Sea Eagles is number 12 Curtis Sironen
Lock for Wests Tigers is number 13 Elijah TaylorLock for Sea Eagles is number 13 Jake Trbojevic
Interchange for Wests Tigers is number 14 Russell PackerInterchange for Sea Eagles is number 14 Trent Hodkinson
Interchange for Wests Tigers is number 15 Thomas MikaeleInterchange for Sea Eagles is number 15 Jack Gosiewski
Interchange for Wests Tigers is number 16 Josh AloiaiInterchange for Sea Eagles is number 16 Kelepi Tanginoa
Interchange for Wests Tigers is number 17 Michael Chee-KamInterchange for Sea Eagles is number 17 Toafofoa Sipley
The battle between the halves should be crucial to the outcome of this Saturday evening meeting. Manly added Kane Elgey from the Titans in the off-season to play alongside Daly Cherry-Evans, while the Tigers stood firm with Benji Marshall and Luke Brooks, with Josh Reynolds coming off the bench.
For the Tigers to win
The aforementioned trio of playmakers need to have a big say if the Tigers are going to prevail. If the likes of Ben Matulino and Russell Packer and can regularly dent the Manly defence, Benji, Brooks and Reynolds can cause all kinds of damage.
For the Sea Eagles to win
The absence of injured fullback Tom Trbojevic and centre Dylan Walker robs Manly of some serious strike power and puts the onus on other players to pick up the slack. The Sea Eagles will be looking to gain an advantage up front through Martin Taupau, Addin Fonua-Blake and Apisai Koroisau.
And another thing
Two teams with new coaches who have each won a premiership. Former Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire is happy to be back in the NRL but faces a tough task matching last year's ninth placing, let alone making the playoffs. The same goes for Hasler, who was lured back after six years with the Bulldogs and faces an uphill battle to get the Sea Eagles into top-eight reckoning.
Brett Kimmorley says ...
We presume it is going to be Robbie's and Benji's final year. As a result, these games at suburban grounds are going to be big deals for the two of them. They love those venues. Luke Brooks was at his best last year and needs to be up challenging for the Dally M Award again this year. The loss of Chris Lawrence is a blow though. Manly have Des Hasler back but are missing a few attacking options. I think Des is going to need to try and strangle a few victories early in the year.
Tigers by 6
Tigers Stat Attack
Marshall turned 34 in February and is yet to indicate if this is his last season. Last year he played in 21 games, scoring three tries and averaging 212.5 kicking metres. Farah, 35, rejoined the Tigers last season after his career appeared to be fading out with the Rabbitohs. He played 11 games after returning, registering a try, four try assists and five line break assists.
Sea Eagles Stat Attack
Legend has it that Martin Taupau, who is nicknamed 'Kapow', is the NRL's strongest player. An avid golfer when he's not playing or training, the 29-year-old was arguably Manly's most consistent performer last year, playing in all 24 of his team's games. Taupau racked up 107 tackle breaks and had 1271.7 post contact metres for the season.
Head to head in the NRL era (since 1998)
- Played: 27; Sea Eagles 15 wins, Wests Tigers 12 wins
- Latest result: Wests Tigers won 22-20 in round 24, 2018
- At this venue: Wests Tigers 58% wins, Sea Eagles 20% wins