It might be the last game of the round, but I think it's fair to suggest when we begin to scratch the surface on the Sea Eagles vs Wests Tigers clash, we've also got the most intriguing and difficult to pick games of the eight on show this week.
The Wests Tigers have been one of the absolute surprise packets of the season so far, winning four of their five games and only dropping one in controversial circumstances at home against the Broncos while the Sea Eagles have gone from good wins against the Raiders and Eels to bad losses to the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Gold Coast Titans in recent weeks.
Ivan Cleary has his troops looking like a strong, cohesive unit better than the sum of their parts and the stunning return of Benji Marshall only further illustrates his uncanny ability to drag the best out of veteran players tipped to be past their prime.
Trent Barrett, on the other hand, is yet to fully convince as a head coach at NRL level. There have been some good signs for 'Baz' since he took the top job on the northern beaches but there are plenty of question marks as well. A big win at home on Sunday against the red-hot Tigers would definitely help add some credibility to his cause.
2017 - Round 23 - Wests Tigers 30 def. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 26 at Leichhardt Oval
2017 - Round 19 - Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 28 def. Wests Tigers 16 at Lottoland
2016 - Round 2 - Wests Tigers 36 def. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 22 at Leichhardt Oval
2015 - Round 15 - Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 30 def. Wests Tigers 20 at Lottoland
2014 - Round 18 - Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 40 def. Wests Tigers 8 at Lottoland
For the fourth time in as many seasons, the Sea Eagles play host to the Wests Tigers at the famous old Brookvale Oval and they'll be keen to extract some revenge after a last-start loss in the closing rounds of the 2017 season.
In a bad season for the Tigers, there was some light at the end of the season as they snatched a 30-26 win at Leichhardt Oval with tries from Tui Lolohea, Kevin Naiqama, Sauaso Sue, Elijah Taylor and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak.
Overall, the Sea Eagles have won three of the last five clashes between these two clubs and six of the last nine while they also hold the overall advantage historically against the Wests Tigers, winning 15 of 27 games since the joint venture was formed.
|Manly Warringah Sea Eagles||Wests Tigers|
|1||Tom Trbojevic||Corey Thompson|
|2||Brad Parker||David Nofoaluma|
|3||Dylan Walker||Esan Marsters|
|4||Brian Kelly||Kevin Naiqama|
|5||Akuila Uate||Malakai Watene-Zelezniak|
|6||Lachlan Croker||Benji Marshall|
|7||Daly Cherry-Evans||Luke Brooks|
|8||Addin Fonua-Blake||Alex Twal|
|9||Api Koroisau||Jacob Liddle|
|10||Marty Taupau||Ben Matulino|
|11||Joel Thompson||Chris Lawrence|
|12||Jack Gosiewski||Robbie Rochow|
|13||Jake Trbojevic||Matthew Eisenhuth|
|14||Jackson Hastings||Josh Reynolds|
|15||Shaun Lane||Josh Aloiai|
|16||Lloyd Perrett||Michael Chee Kam|
|17||Frank Winterstein||Sauaso Sue|
|18||Matthew Wright||Tim Grant|
|19||Jonathan Wright||Chris McQueen|
|21/20||Taniela Paseka||Tyson Gamble|
|22/21||Toafofoa Sipley||Tuimoala Lolohea|
The facts that matter
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Most importantly for the Sea Eagles, fullback Tom Trbojevic has been named to make his return from an ankle injury at fullback. Trbojevic adds so much to the Manly backline in attack as well as providing a safe and sound option at the back and under the high ball, so his inclusion is hugely important for the home side as they look to topple the sizzling Tigers.
In a clear sign of Tom Trbojevic's importance to the Sea Eagles, the fullback sits behind only Moses Mbye when it comes to line breaks so far in 2018. Mbye has six to his name while Trbojevic sits one back with five breaks. Centre Brian Kelly is also in the mix as one of the deadlier ball-runners having made four line breaks of his own.
Brad Parker was a late withdrawal last week, but he's been named on the wing which sees Jonathan Wright drop back to the extended reserves bench where he joins Matthew Wright, Taniela Paseka and Toafofoa Sipley.
A debutant against the Titans last week, Jack Gosiewski comes into the starting side this week in a back row book-ended by the sublime Jack Trbojevic. The promotion of Gosiewski sees big, bustling Frank Winterstein drop back to the bench.
Home form could hold the key for Manly this week. The Sea Eagles have enjoyed their two starts on home soil having thrashed the Parramatta Eels 54-0 and soundly beaten Canberra (32-16) at Brookvale in 2018.
The Tigers have, without a shadow of the doubt, been one of the genuine shocks of the opening few rounds of the season. With only one loss to their name, and that a dodgy call or two from being a win, the Tigers have upset the apple cart and, along with the Warriors and Dragons, turned the NRL on its head.
Corey Thompson has proved a revelation since returning from a stint in the UK Super League. The back has already snared a contract extension and seems to have taken ownership of the fullback position over Tui Lolohea as well, illustrating just how good his form has been in 2018.
Also in fine form have been a pair of evergreen veterans, Benji Marshall and Chris Lawrence. Marshall has made a swift transition back after a long stint away from the club and looks a more mature leader and a director of play while Lawrence, once a fleet-footed back, now provides solid service fringe running and a tremendous defensive output from the back row.
The Tigers will also welcome back high-profile recruit Josh Reynolds after an injury lay off which should give the Tigers faithful an added boost. The return of Josh Reynolds comes as Jacob Liddle returns to the starting hooker role and Pita Godinet drops out from the side completely.
David Nofoaluma also makes his return to first grade on the wing as Corey Thompson firms into the fullback role at the expense of Tui Lolohea who was named amongst the extended reserves. Alex Twal comes into the starting side at prop with Russell Packer succumbing to a knee injury while Sauaso Sue comes onto the bench.
Predicting games in the NRL right now feels like a fool's game, so whatever I go here, it will be with little overall confidence. That said, I like the grinding sort of style the Tigers have. Regardless of who they play, they have the ability to drag teams into an arm wrestle and beat them with experience and guile.
I don't mind the idea of the Sea Eagles at home, but they've been a little too inconsistent, so I'll take the visitors by 1-12.
Who will wind up with the two competition points at Lottoland this Sunday, the Sea Eagles or the Tigers? Let us know in the comments and poll below.