Grand final day is now only 2 sleeps away and the betting agencies and fans alike have the Roosters are solid favourites over the Manly Sea Eagles. Twitter seems to be fairly split, and even neutrals have decided which way they will lend their support on Sunday evening.
My wife is a Manly fan (I know, I know) so I will be hoping they get up on Sunday, but which side is best placed to win? Taking a look at each side, it’s going to be a close one, especially if the 4-0 Roosters win in the first week of the finals is anything to go by:
Fullbacks: Minichello vs. Stewart
The battle of the fullbacks is becoming a more important one which each passing season. They set the tone for a set of six with their kick returns, their backup play is extremely important and their ability to play like a third half seems to be an increasing trend. In this contest you have two former NSW and Kangaroo’s fullbacks. Although both have had injury affected seasons, both seemed to be at their destructive best in the grand final qualifiers and both will play in important part this Sunday. For mine Brett Stewart is a little more dangerous in attack, and has an almost unbelievable try scoring record.
Manly 1 – 0 Roosters
Wingers: Daniel Tupou and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck vs. David Williams and Jorge Taufua
Dally M winger of the year RTS and Tupou combine height, power, speed and skill and have formed the most lethal wing combination of the season. Their battle with the former NSW winger David Williams and future NSW winger Jorge Taufua will be one to savor. David Williams was equal top try scorer this season whilst Jorge Taufua may have topped the charts if he hadn’t been suspended for the final 2 games of the season. RTS is the most dangerous winger in the air in the competition whilst Tupou has matured into a future representative player. RTS’s try was the difference between the teams in their round 1 of the finals matchup, and this battle may decide it again.
Roosters 1 – 1 Manly
Centres: Michael Jennings and Shaun Kenny-Dowall vs. Jamie Lyon and Steve Matai
Perhaps THE battle of all battles is in the centres this Sunday. NSW Origin centre Michael Jennings and the man who would be first centre picked in any side in the world Jamie Lyon are absolutely key to their side’s chances of claiming the title this weekend. Lyon, the current Dally M centre of the year has hit some royal form at the right time for Manly and will again be their main source of attack. Jennings has set the competition alight after his move from the base of the mountains. Kenny-Dowall has come good after a shocking start to the season and has given the Roosters something they’ve lacked since their grand final charge a few years ago. Matai doesn’t seem to show any signs of age and having seemingly cut the nonsense out of his game, has been able to concentrate on busting defences open. I get the feeling the more experienced Manly paring JUST edge it here based on the fact Kenny-Dowall can be rocks or diamonds, whereas you know what you’re going to get with Matai.
Manly 2 – 1 Roosters
Halves: James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce vs. Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans
The NSW halves vs. the Kiwis 5/8 and QLD’ers utility. I’m hoping Pearce beats the flu and is at his very best as this battle of the halves is one I am looking forward to. All four men have played in a grand final, with the Manly pairing having beaten Maloney’s Warriors a few years ago. Pearce and Maloney will want to square the ledger and their ability to lift in the biggest game of all will be key to their side’s chances. Pearce has copped criticism for going missing in big games and will want to put that talk to rest. Maloney had a great Origin series but was a step behind the QLD pairing. This is a razor thin decision but the experience and performance of the Manly pairing in big games has been second to none.
Manly 3 – 1 Roosters
Hookers: Jake Friend vs. Matt Ballin
Perhaps the two most underrated number 9’s in the competition face off on Sunday evening. Both have had amazing years, with Friend having his best year to date. Ballin has the big game experience having played for Queensland in 2010 and having won a title with the Manly team in 2011. Fiend has a Prime Minister’s XIII to his name and he weren’t playing in an era dominated by Cam Smith and Robbie Farah he may have been in line for more rep honours at years end. This could honestly go either way but Ballin, having played in the cauldron of Origin gets the advantage, although I would not be surprised to see Friend put in a near man of the match performance on Sunday either.
Manly 4 – 1 Roosters
Second Row: Sonny Bill Williams and Aidan Guerra vs. Anthony Watmough and Justin Horo
It’s very possible one of these two will move into lock to accommodate the return of Boyd Cordner but considering his injury, Cordner will likely start from the bench. Sonny Bill is the favourite for the Clive Churchill medal, whilst Aidan Guerra should be coming off a best on ground for his fantastic efforts last week. Watmough is sure to be on the plane to the World Cup after yet another brilliant season. Justin Horo may be the surprise packet of the season after producing a year of performances well above his price tag. If there’s a clear winner in this battle, there could be big trouble for the opposition. Form wise this one goes the way of the Rooster’s second row, especially if Cordner is able to go into the game fully fit.
Roosters 2 – 4 Manly
Locks: Frank-Paul Nuusausala vs. Glenn Stewart
How much better are Manly with their NSW representative lock back in the side? That right side is without a doubt the most dangerous in the NRL when firing, with Stewart, Lyon and Williams tearing many a side apart. Frank-Paul is yet another Rooster having a career best year. He is a big chance to play in the world cup for New Zealand in what will be an intimidating forward pack to say the least. You get the feeling that Stewart is in a difference class after playing so many big games although Frank-Paul will not go down without a fight. There is a chance he will move back to the bench making this Stewart vs. Cordner, Williams or Guerrera but the way the teams were named, this is one for the Brookie boys.
Manly 5 – 2 Roosters
Front Row: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Sam Moa vs. Brent Kite and Brenton Lawrence
If JWH hadn’t spent so many weeks on the sideline for his hit on George Rose, he may have pushed Andrew Fifita for the prop of the year honours. JWH and Sam Moa have always had the size to punch holes in defences but this year they seem to have found the belief to match their size. Brent Kite has been amazing for Manly, including his best on ground in the 40-0 flogging of the Storm and will hope to end his Eagles career on a high note. Lawrence is another bargain buy for the Eagles, putting in performances that far exceed his contract value. This will be a tough contest, especially in the first 15 minutes but I think the Roosters shade this one, mainly thanks to JWH’s aggression and size.
Roosters 3 – Manly 5
Bench: Mortimer, Aubusson, Napa and Cordner vs. Gower, Buhrer, Symonds, Rose
It has been said that you can evaluate the strength of your side by the quality of its bench. Looking at the Roosters bench you have a NSW Origin rep, a former rookie of the year, someone who has played over 120 first grade games and a boom youngster who rocked the game’s best forward in Paul Gallen a few years ago. For the Eagles you have 3 tradesmen and a monster who can turn the game with a big 10 minute effort. George Rose has never played big minutes, he’s also never needed to either. He will probably only play 25 or so minutes on Sunday but his efforts against the Bunnies last Friday Night turned the tide. I can’t wait to see him size up JWH and vice versa, but I’m really looking forward to seeing how young Napa fares.
Roosters 4 – 5 Manly
Coach: Trent Robinson vs. Geoff Toovey
Trent Robinson was named Dally M coach of the season in his first year in charge of the club, and although I thought Flanagan had a good case for winning, you surely can’t begrudge Robinson’s award. He has turned fringe first graders and rookies into genuine rep possibilities and also reminded Michael Jennings that he is a star. Geoff Toovey has been in the papers thanks to his rants but he has played some serious ‘money ball’ with his signings this season. Both men have shown they have the ability to get the best out of their teams and although Toovey has the experience edge in terms of NRL experience, Robinson is hardly a rookie coach.
Verdict: I expect both sides to come out firing and I fully expect the Roosters to take the early lead, however I believe it will be the experience and skill of a Jamie Lyon, Brett Stewart or Anthony Watmough that will prove to be the difference. I was trying to put a bet on earlier and I genuinely feel this could go either way, but putting it all on the line … Manly by 4 in a reversal of their semi-final just a few weeks ago.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
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