The year of redemption beckons for Parramatta and they take the first step here when they travel to the Northern Beaches to take on Manly.
Parramatta were looking the goods before several disasters struck last season, derailing their season and costing them an almost certain spot in the finals. Salary cap scandals, star players behaving badly etc – coach Brad Arthur will be hoping all the bad luck has finally left the side.
Their squad is pretty much the same as it was in the back half of 2016 but the one big minus is that Kieran Foran is gone and the Eels essentially have a new spine with speedster Bevan French taking the fullback role and quality back Josh Hoffman arriving to take a place on the wing.
Manly is in a rebuilding phase but has some quality pieces in their line-up starting with Daly Cherry-Evans and the Trbojevic brothers leading the way. While they lost plenty of experience from last year including Brett Stewart, Steve Matai and Jamie Lyon they can be a competitive unit in 2017.
Manly’s success in recent years was built off the back of their record at Fortress Brookvale but last season they won just four from 12 there.
Coach Trent Barrett managed to snare the prized signing of Blake Green from the Storm and his combination with Cherry-Evans in the halves has the potential to return big dividends.
They, along with fullback Tom Trbojevic and powerhouse forward Marty Taupau offer x-factor which is something that will get the Manly faithful excited and bring the buzz back to the ‘fortress’.
WHAT TO EXPECT?
It is hard to know what we are going to get from the Eels this season.
They have a good enough squad to play finals and will be keen as mustard to get off to a winning start here. Soon after they had their 12 points deducted for salary cap breaches, Parramatta lost two straight before going on a run of four wins from five games but the momentum soon petered out.
Finishing the season strongly with wins over the Dragons and Warriors suggests they will be primed for a big one here.
Remarkably the Eels are looking for six straight wins over Manly for the first time in club history.
Currently riding a five-game winning streak over the Sea Eagles, Parramatta had dropped 11 of the previous 14 encounters which shows that momentum is a key factor in this match-up.
Giving Eels punters even more confidence going into this will be the fact they have won the past two at Brookvale.
We think Parramatta will be too strong here.
They will be keen to erase the memories of last season and what better way to do that with a win at a ground they enjoy playing at. It will be even sweeter considering it is against one of their oldest rivals.
Manly, on the other hand, could come out all guns blazing too.
While they have been dominated by the Eels in recent times it hasn’t been all one-way traffic. The Sea Eagles have actually outscored Parramatta 139-68 in the first half of matches dating back to 2012. Finishing the job has been the issue so Manly To Win First Half ($1.83 with Sportsbet) could be an attractive alternative.
MATCH WINNER: EELS
FIRST TRYSCORER: BEVAN FINCH
WINNING MARGIN: EELS 1-12
OTHER TIP: MANLY/EELS (HT/FT)