T-Rex is starting to recapture the form that saw him don the green and gold. Picture: Mark Evans/dailytelegraph.com.au
Manly Sea Eagles v Canterbury Bulldogs
Friday June 6 – 7:45 PM (AEST)
With both teams bolstering near full strength squads, this game is one to watch. The Canterbury Bulldogs are the competition leaders, and for good reason. The form side so far, the Doggies are set for mammoth task, taking on the Manly Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval. If both teams play the way they have before the Origin period, then expect this one to be one physical match-up.
The Silvertails are coming off a crushing defeat last week. Against a Broncos side which was missing Justin Hodges, Manly leaked 36 points in what was one of their worst defensive efforts of the year. Don’t take anything away from Brisbane, who were superb right up until the final buzzer, but the usually dominant Sea Eagles pack provided no platform for the halves to work from and fell off far too many tackles. The return of Daly Cherry-Evans is a massive boost for the home side. His partnership with Kieran Foran is vital, particularly if they hope to be genuine title contenders. Origin star Anthony Watmough returns from a bicep injury, relegating Jack Littlejohn to 18th man, with James Hasson out of the squad.
The Doggies are in a similar position. Without their Origin stars, including both halves, they seemed lost at times and fell off badly at the back end of the game against the Roosters last Friday. Since arriving at Belmore, coach Des Hasler hasn’t had to deal with the juggernaut that is State of Origin to such an extent than he has this year. Josh Morris has been a regular in the sky blue for a number of years, but the addition of halves Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds and back rower Tony Williams created a lot of headaches for the two-time premiership-winning coach. Apart from Morris, who will miss six weeks due to a knee injury, all of the Origin stars return for this epic clash. Chase Stanley shifts to the centres for Morris, with Krisnan Inu retaining his spot on the wing. Tim Lafai and Corey Thompson both drop back to NSW Cup. Williams returns to the back row, forcing Dale Finucane to the bench and Reni Maitua out of the squad.
Everyone is talking about the head-to-head battle of the Origin halfbacks. But basically, the team which dominates the middle will win this one. Add T-Rex on the fringes and the Doggies head into Friday’s clash with a slight advantage.