Dally M medallist Ben Barba has had a season to remember. Picture: Mark Evans/dailytelegraph.com.au
The NRL’s two form teams meet in the opening game of the 2012 finals on Friday night, with the Bulldogs and Manly doing battle for the right to host a Grand Final qualifier in two weeks. The Bulldogs clinched the Minor Premiership with a barnstorming finish to the regular season that saw them win 13 of their final 14 matches, with their only defeat coming at the hands of Canberra in the penultimate round. They showed that that result was nothing more than a minor blip however, with a resounding 42-10 win over the Roosters last Saturday.
Defending premiers Manly stormed into the top four on the back of six straight wins, with their victims in the final month and a half including Souths, Brisbane and North Queensland. In addition to matches against fellow premiership contenders, the Sea Eagles have also had tough games against the Titans and Warriors to end the season, which will hold them in good stead in the pressure cooker environment of finals football.
History – These clubs have met on 115 occasions, with the Sea Eagles holding a 61-49 advantage over the Bulldogs, while 5 fixtures have ended in a draw. Manly has won three of the past four clashes, although Canterbury was 20-12 victors in the most recent match at Brookvale Oval in round 20. That game was also the last time that Geoff Toovey’s side tasted defeat.
– Ben Barba has been the best player in the competition this year and his dominance is reflected in the swag of awards that he collected at the Dally M awards on Tuesday. In addition to the top honour, he was also named fullback of the year, Provan-Summons medallist, joint top tryscorer and the winner of headline moment of the year.
Brett Stewart was missing the last time that these sides met and it is no coincidence that the Sea Eagles are unbeaten since he returned to the fold in round 22. He has also managed to cross the tryline frequently this year, with 12 tries from just 18 appearances.
– Defending champions Manly may have more finals experience that their opponents but it is hard to see why there is such a gulf between the sides in the betting. The Bulldogs have been the best side in 2012 and pinched a win over the Sea Eagles on the back of some Ben Barba magic. If he is on song, they can repeat the dose. Bulldogs 1-12
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