Friday night brings two blockbuster NRL matches to Sydney, and ideal scheduling between State of Origin games means that representative stars will be running out for their clubs. Third placed Manly Sea Eagles host the ladder leading Canterbury Bulldogs at Brookvale, while in the west Parramatta Eels entertain North Queensland Cowboys.
Clashes between Manly and the Bulldogs are always feisty affairs, and come with extra spice these days since the defection of Des Hasler to Belmore. Despite sitting in the top four both sides are coming off of heavy losses – Manly against the Broncos last weekend, and the Bulldogs to the Roosters prior to a bye round.
Manly have managed to maintain a spot in the top four despite missing key players in the opening half of the season. Those injuries are starting to clear up, and if they can keep their stars on the pitch together then a surge to the top of the ladder is distinctly possible. Daly Cherry-Evans and Anthony Watmough are back in the squad after injuries sustained in the first Origin game.
If any team is ideally equipped to emerge victorious at fortress Brookvale it is surely the Bulldogs and their huge forward pack. The loss of Brett Morris is a blow, but Krisnan Inu is a very capable replacement in the centres.
The Bulldogs are demonstrating that defences win matches, and potentially Premierships. Their points scored tally for 2014 is matched or bettered by many in the NRL, but their total points conceded is more than 20 points fewer than the next best.
While Parramatta are a much improved side this season, last week’s comprehensive loss to Penrith indicated that without Jarryd Hayne the Eels lose a lot of potency. While Hayne is back in the side to face North Queensland the Eels have lost hooker Nathan Peats for the remainder of the season. Luke Kelly takes Peats’ place in the starting line-up.
The Cowboys turned in another excellent display in Townsville to defeat Melbourne last weekend, but are still winless on the road in 2014. It will be a tough task to get that first win at a venue where the hosts are undefeated themselves this season. However, it was just five rounds ago when the Cowboys overcame the Eels 42-14 up north.
Friday 6th June, Brookvale Oval 19:40
Manly Sea Eagles v Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
Friday 6th June, Pirtek Stadium Parramatta 19:40
Parramatta Eels v North Queensland Cowboys