A stark contrast exists between the sides with the Newcastle sides overhauled roster to face a familiar Manly team with just one new addition to the line-up for this Friday night clash. It also poses as a great chance for the Knights to turn around recent form against the Sea Eagles with a gluttony of fresh new faces, representative stars and Premiership winners alike coming onboard to halt a run of three wooden spoons in a row.
During the off-season, Mitchell Pearce was being courted by Manly trying to convince him to sign with the Northern Beaches club, signing instead further North for the coastal town team of Newcastle in the Hunter Region. Plenty has been made of Pearce since his arrival and by all reports, this season could be the one where he really sets the competition alight, with the opportunity to claim this side as his own with his leadership and on-field performances.
Manly have flown under the radar this off and preseason, a trait of one of their more successful coaches in Des Hasler embraced. With possibly one of the biggest packs in the NRL they would do well to make a strong claim to bring back contested scrums this year finally although little has been said about this side littered with talent. Look-out for them this Friday night to send a warning shot to the competition despite being placed as only potential top eight finishers.
2017 - Rd 14 - Manly Sea Eagles 18 def. Newcastle Knights 14 at Lottoland Stadium
2016 - Rd 21 - Manly Sea Eagles 36 def. Newcastle Knights 16 at Lottoland Stadium
2016 - Rd 8 - Manly Sea Eagles 26 def. Newcastle Knights 10 at McDonald Jones Stadium
2015 - Rd 9 - Manly Sea Eagles 30 def. Newcastle Knights 10 at Lottoland Stadium
2014 - Rd 10 - Manly Sea Eagles 15 def. Newcastle Knights 14 at Lottoland Stadium
The Sea-Eagles seem to have won the "Lotto" with four of the past five clashes between these sides being held at Lottoland Stadium with Manly winning all of those clashes plus the one in Newcastle.
Their most recent encounter in the driving rain meant points were scarce, with Uate fortunate the touch judge and referee missing a blatant knock-on from the winger, Newcastle fans had reason to feel aggrieved.
Newcastle has some of the best fans in the game with an average of 15,619 fans every week and can use this to their advantage to get them over the line on Friday. Last season they showed up continually despite loss after loss and reaped the rewards late in the season with an accumulation of promising signings and performances on the field. So expect a boisterous crowd in two days time willing the Knights over the line.
|Newcastle Knights||Manly Sea Eagles|
|1||Kalyn Ponga||Tom Trbojevic|
|2||Shaun Kenny-Dowall||Jorge Taufua|
|3||Sione Mata'utia||Matthew Wright|
|4||Tautau Moga||Brian Kelly|
|5||Nathan Ross||Akuila Uate|
|6||Connor Watson||Lachlan Croker|
|7||Mitchell Pearce||Daly Cherry-Evans|
|8||Herman Ese'ese||Addin Fonua-Blake|
|9||Slade Griffin||Apisai Koroisau|
|10||Jacob Lillyman||Martin Taupau|
|11||Lachlan Fitzgibbon||Joel Thompson|
|12||Aidan Guerra||Curtis Sironen|
|13||Mitchell Barnett||Jake Trbojevic|
|14||Brock Lamb||Lewis Brown|
|15||Chris Heighington||Shaun Lane|
|16||Jamie Buhrer||Frank Winterstein|
|17||Daniel Saifiti||Kelepi Tanginoa|
|18||Ken Sio||Bradley Parker|
|19||Jacob Saifiti||Jackson Hastings|
|20||Daniel Levi||Jack Gosiewski|
|21||Luke Yates||Lloyd Perrett|
The facts that matter
Nine new faces appear for the Newcastle Knights nearly all of which having representative football experience or being touted for those honours. This influx of key personnel should appreciatively benefit the Knights cause on Friday, however, it may take a while for combinations to pick up and players to find form in a new jersey.
Newcastle fielding a whole new spine leaves them with an abundance of supreme attacking talent, none more so than Kalyn Ponga. Originally a golfer the young man had offers from the Brisbane Lions and Queensland Reds as well to pursue a professional sporting career. If Newcastle are to win on Friday lookout for his broken field play from the back and link up play with Mitchell Pearce. Despite picking up so many new players, four have made the trip North from the Roosters meaning combinations particularly in the halves will be expedited. This is vital as the Sea Eagles face the challenge of getting their own new halves pairing to gel with the loss of Blake Green.
Have stuck tight with a coach who has picked up two wooden spoons, common sense prevailing with the man now holding a roster that is his own. Friday night is every League fans first chance to see what the new Hunter boys can display and with the club building culture and trust around Nathan Brown now two years into his tenure, it bodes well in that players of seasons past are not learning a whole new game structure themselves.
Manly Sea Eagles
After a two-year absence from the finals series in which the club had almost become accustomed to the Sea Eagles returned last year, only to bundle out controversially against the Panthers. This year poses a bigger challenge minus Blake Green and with recruits scarce, the nifty pick up of Joel Thompson and development of Kelepi Tanginoa is crucial, and handy for a pack already one of the biggest in the competition.
Have placed their trust in the young and talented Lachlan Croker however by no means has a hold on the five-eighth position, with Tom Wright stamping his mark on this beautiful game in the U20's last year.
Tom Trbojevic is a future representative star and a player I see winning the Dally M at some stage throughout his career. Set fire to the competition last year and his running style reminds me a little of Hayne with poise, balance and evasiveness, Tom ended season 2017 with 12 tries, 18 try assists and 23 line-breaks. If the Sea Eagles are to win on Friday night look for a big performance or game changing moment to come from this man who can be the new king of Brookie, sorry Lottoland!
Will surely be a tight, intense affair and with two of the games brightest prospects at fullback coming up against each other expect some enterprising play. The Knights will be desperate for a win with their next three matches away games, will this see them hit the ground running in their hopes of a top-eight spot.
That said I see the Knights coming close with what has to be one of the largest recruitment drives over a year ever, and also one of the most astute. However, I see a relatively unchanged Manly side sneaking away with the win by 6 points or less. Do you agree, let us know in the comments below.