Manly finished the regular season with a bang. Image courtesy of Getty Images/abc.net.au
After going into the opening week of the finals as premiership favourites, Manly is on the brink of elimination after going down to the Bulldogs 16-10 last weekend. That result set up a tough semi-final showdown with an in-form North Queensland outfit that has won its past five matches. Adding to the Sea Eagles woes is the loss of centre Steve Matai, who copped a one match ban for a high tackle, and the fitness of Jamie Lyon who lasted just 23 minutes against the Bulldogs before succumbing to a calf injury. He was named to play against the Cowboys but will have to prove his fitness before the match.
The Cowboys kept their season alive with a 33-16 over the Broncos last weekend, their fifth win in succession. Big guns Matt Bowen and Jonathan Thurston ran continued their fine form with dominant displays, while halfback Michael Morgan also had a blinder, scoring three tries. Hooker Aaron Payne has been ruled out with a knee injury he sustained early in that match and will be replaced by James Segeyaro.
– Manly has a good record against North Queensland, having won 12 of the 19 matches between the sides, including six of the past eight. The Sea Eagles have a 6-2 advantage in meetings between the pair in Sydney and have won both fixtures at this ground. Manly were 8-6 victors when they faced the Cowboys in Townsville six weeks ago, while they also knocked North Queensland out of last year’s playoff series with a 42-8 qualifying final win here.
– The battle of the fullbacks will be one to savour in this match. New South Wales custodian Brett Stewart was relatively quiet against the Bulldogs last week but still managed to score a try. He had made seven line breaks in his previous three matches and is also one of the best support players in the game.
Matt Bowen , who finished second in the voting for the Dally M medal, is arguably in career best form and had another blinder against Brisbane last weekend, making six tackle breaks and two line breaks. His combination with Jonathan Thurston has been a large part of their team’s success and will be sure to keep the Sea Eagles on their toes again.
– Although North Queensland comes into this clash in red hot form, they must overcome a terrible record in Sydney - four wins from their past 25 matches- if they are to remain in the premiership hunt. The Cowboys have probably been playing at their peak, while Manly has failed to put in a full 80 minute performance for some time. There could be some value backing them to be leading at halftime and get run down , but it is more likely they will put it all together for the duration this week. Manly 1-12
Click here to bet on NRL Semi-final matches