NRL Finals Week 1: Sea Eagles v Sharks Preview & Betting Tips
Manly’s season is falling apart – can they pick up the pieces in time or will the Sharks finish them for good?
Manly Sea-Eagles v Cronulla Sharks – Lottoland – 7:50pm
In two weeks Manly have gone from a Premiership contender to a hot favourite for a week one finals elimination. Two horror results against Melbourne and Parramatta combined with a crippling injury list result in Manly being friendless.
Their 32-16 defeat to the Eels last week saw Manly finish in sixth position and Des Hasler’s side never recovered from their sluggish start seeing them concede two tries inside the opening seven minutes. Two tries to livewire interchange hooker Manase Fainu kept Manly in the contest in the second half but when the Eels stepped up their intensity there were was only going to be one winner. Addin Fonua-Blake had an outstanding performance and the big prop might be relied on to create some second-phase play with his offloading ability to help spark a Manly attack which hasn’t had nearly the same threat without the injured Tom Trbojevic.
With other regulars Marty Taupau, Curtis Sironen, Joel Thompson and Taniela Paseka all out, Manly’s already shaky depth is now shredded. Such is their injury crisis the Sea Eagles have gained an exemption to select ex-Australian forward Tony Williams from reserve grade for his first NRL appearance since early 2018. It’s a world away from where the Eagles were a fortnight ago and it’s going to take every bit of home-field advantage to give them a sniff of keeping their season alive against the odds.
Cronulla ensured Paul Gallen’s storied career isn’t over just yet with a clinical 25-8 victory over Wests securing 7th spot in what was a sudden-death shootout at Leichhardt. The Sharks are a dangerous opponent in September – they’re yet to regularly hit their stride but possess enough experience, quality and aggression to be a handful for anyone in elimination footy.
Cronulla looked comfortable in the hostile atmosphere, overcome a somewhat slow start to eventually crush the dreams of the desperate Tigers. With Matt Moylan’s ongoing hamstring injury the playmaking pressure on halves Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend has escalated, but despite some recent misfires, the pair were at ease in this finals preview.
Johnson’s combination with the fantastic talent of Briton Nikora could be a go-to attacking threat on an edge this weekend – their combination paid dividends in the first game’s try. Veteran back Josh Morris showed his experience to be in the right spot to capitalise on Esan Marsters failing to handle a Johnson grubber to score and Gallen had enough time to put a dagger through broken Tiger hearts with a field goal to seal a memorable win.
Premiership hooker Michael Ennis claims the Sharks can make NRL history in being the first side outside the top four to win the title in the current format, and while that might be a stretch, it’s also not hard to see the Sharks making a run. Their forwards are impressive, Wade Graham provides his trademark brilliance with the ball and they’ve got a raw strike weapon in Bronson Xerri who can tear apart any defensive line. The Sharks passed their Tigers test with flying colours – don’t discount them doing likewise against the Sea Eagles.
• In games he’s completed in 2019, Manly’s win percentage with Tom Trbojevic is 91%. Without him, it plummets to 33%.
• The Eagles have a massive head-to-head advantage over Cronulla however – since 2008 they have a 16-2 record.
• Cronulla enters the side in better form with a 5-2 record, their two losses by 6 points to Penrith and 1 point in extra time against Canberra.
• Cronulla has also won their last four first halves.
Best bet: Sharks -2 - $1.68* (Unibet)
Value bet: Sharks halftime/fulltime - $2.02* (BetEasy)