Manly Sea Eagles v Brisbane Broncos
Sydney Football Stadium, 7:45pm.
Sea Eagles: Brett Stewart, Michael Robertson, Jamie Lyon (c), Steve Matai, Will Hopoate, Kieran Foran, Daly Cherry-Evans, Joe Galuvao, Matt Ballin, Brent Kite, Anthony Watmough, Tony Williams, Shane Rodney. Interchange (from): Tim Robinson, Jamie Buhrer, Vic Mauro, George Rose, Terence Seuseu
Broncos: Gerard Beale, Dale Copley, Jack Reed, Justin Hodges, Jharal Yow Yew, TBC, Peter Wallace, Josh McGuire, Andrew McCullough, Ben Hannant, Alex Glenn, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker. Interchange (from): Matt Gillett, Ben Hunt, Scott Anderson, Ben Te’o, David Hala
DARREN LOCKYER MAY HAVE PLAYED HIS LAST GAME and only time will tell if he will ever compete in an NRL match again. Lockyer’s fractured cheekbone has had more attention than the Sea Eagles, Storm and the Warriors put together and unfortunately it has ruled him out of this preliminary final. (I like to think that there are even some Manly supporters out there that are a bit sad!)
As a result the Broncos’ long kicking game is going to suffer. Matt Gillett is likely to replace Lockyer at 5/8th and hasn’t played in that position regularly since 2009 in the QLD Cup. Although his inclusion will strengthen the team in defence it is yet to be seen what kind of support he can give to Peter Wallace and whether or not he can direct his troops around the park sufficiently.
A big plus for the Broncos is Sam Thaiday’s return to the second row from suspension which will see him go head to head with Manly’s juggernaut Tony Williams. What a battle that will be. Thaiday is ever dangerous when linking up with the always offloading workhorse Corey Parker.
And speaking of Tony Williams; the big fella is on fire lately and has shown he is more than capable of playing 80 minutes in the second row. Whenever Williams hits it up in the opposition half, Brett Stewart won’t be far behind him looking for an offload and ultimately a try.
Overall the forward packs look pretty evenly matched. The deciding factors may come down to the difference in the backlines. It certainly won’t suit the Broncos playing away from Suncorp Stadium where they will suddenly lose that buzz of having 50,000 locals behind them.
Manly can expect a fight nonetheless.
CHANCE OF WINNING:
Manly 67%, Brisbane 31%
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Sam Thaiday returns and will play a massive role in spurring his team along as he slots into his specific leadership role once more. Look for him running off Corey Parker and putting in a massive effort defensively.
Matt Gillett has played as a 5/8th only once in the NRL (Rd 23, 2010) and that day the Broncos were beaten. In one sense there is no pressure on Gillett as no one expects him to be Darren Lockyer, but in the back of his mind he will know that a poor showing will see the Broncos bow out in 2011.
Brett Stewart is improving with every game and is getting close to being back at his best. But the facts are that he will be carrying a knee injury but if he can overcome any niggling problems, expect him to be prowling around the ruck in attack.
Tony Williams has been hard for opposition defence to handle of late but he has his work cut out for him against a Broncos side that defend very well. Look for Williams to try and establish some dominance early.
The cold hard stats show that without Darren Lockyer the Broncos have only ever won 33% of their matches. Going without him in a final will be worse.
The first half should be a bit of a tedious grind and I wouldn’t be surprised if the scores are locked up at half time before Manly run away with it in the second half. Manly 13+ looks good for juicier odds than my recommended best bet.
Mike’s Best Bet: $127 on the Sea Eagles -5.5 @ $1.75 (Sportsbet)
Starting Bank: $2000, Current Bank $2627.69
(Team lists sourced from nrl.com.au)