Twists and Turns

We’ve said all season that the NRL is a rollercoaster ride, especially as a Warriors fan, and Saturday evening looks no different. The men from Mt Smart, flying high after six wins from eight games, experienced a sudden loss of altitude last week at the hands of the Roosters. This week we should learn a great deal about whether the fall was merely a bout of turbulence during their flight to the finals or the Giant Drop that sends the season plummeting towards mediocrity.

While the Warriors season has been see-sawing from up to down and back again, this Manly side has largely been in freefall. Only six wins from their 17 games, plus a wide range of off-field dramas — the latest being reports of a massive player cull for 2016 and the constant rumblings about Geoff Toovey’s coaching role — have left the Sea Eagles’ season hanging by a thread. Six points outside the Top 8, with only seven games to go, and we’re almost in must-win territory for the team from the northern beaches.

Despite all of Manly’s struggles, if they turn up to play, beating them will be no easy task. On paper their backline looks as good as any in the competition. Cherry-Evans and Foran in the halves, Brett Stewart at the back and the experience of Lyon and Matai in the centres will provide a stern test for the Warriors’ defensive line.

The forwards is where the men from Mt Smart look to have the edge. Young Jake Trbojevic is making a name for himself as an up-and-coming prop, and Ligi Sao will be keen to make a good impression against his new (old) club, but there’s no one in that Manly pack who boasts the credentials of the likes of Lillyman, Matulino and Mannering. If the Warriors can assert their dominance through the middle, and get back to the patient, territory game that has served them so well in the past month, they’ll go a long way to neutralising that strong Eagles backline.

It looks as though injury could rob us of one of the most interesting sidenotes of Saturday evening’s contest, with Daly Cherry-Evans in serious doubt to take the field. As impressive as his skills are on the field, there would be some that argue his absence could galvanise this Manly side. It’s no secret that his relationship with Brett Stewart has soured, and without that friction the Eagles may come together in a desperate attempt to keep their slim playoff chances alive.

However, if DCE is able to take the field, fans worldwide could witness the most impressive array of flexibility ever seen on a rugby league pitch. Both Nathan Friend and DCE have become social media stars on the back of their gymnastic talents and, in a classic tale of good vs evil, this match could further enhance their reputations as they go head-to-head (or should it be back-to-back?) for the first time this year. We have the high-flying hotshot vs the working-class bricklayer from Toowoomba. The people’s champion vs public enemy No. 1. It could be an epic encounter — let’s hope it happens — we may never see two small men who twist and turn quite like this again.

What to watch for: A long-awaited return. I’ve been a big fan of The Flying Fish, Glen Fisiiahi, since his days in the U20s and it’s great to see him back in the NRL. He’s always had huge talent, but he’s been hampered by injuries and has so far been unable to find the right situation at the club to cement his place in the top grade. With Roger Tuivasa-Sheck coming to Mt Smart in 2016, you get the feeling The Fish is destined to never again wear that Warriors #1 jersey. I’ve often wondered if he could grow into a star at another club, and he’ll surely be desperate to take this chance to show what he’s got. With the departure of Ngani Laumape, a new opportunity exists for The Fish to make his name as a winger, but, if he doesn’t grab it with both hands, it could be the last chance he gets. I’ll be watching him closely and hoping he has a big game.

NRL Warrior prediction: As bad as it looked against the Roosters, I’m feeling unusually confident that last weekend was an exception to the rule, that it could even be the wake-up call the Warriors need as they head into the business end of this competition. Their completion rate was terrible in that first half and, once the Roosters took a healthy lead, the game was as good as over. But if the men from Mt Smart can view that game as a learning experience, and get back to the simple game plan that brought them success over the past month, I’m sure they’ll be depositing another 2 points in the bank. Warriors by 10.

Last meeting between these sides:



1 Sam Tomkins

2 Glen Fisiiahi

3 Tuimoala Lolohea

4 Solomone Kata

5 Jonathan Wright

6 Chad Townsend

7 Shaun Johnson

8 Jacob Lillyman

9 Nathan Friend

10 Ben Matulino

11 Bodene Thompson

12 Raymond Faitala-Mariner

13 Simon Mannering (c)


14 Siliva Havili

15 Sione Lousi

16 Sam Rapira

17 Albert Vete

18 Sam Lisone


Sea Eagles

1 Brett Stewart

2 Jorge Taufua

3 Jamie Lyon (c)

4 Steve Matai

5 Peta Hiku

6 Kieran Foran

7 Daly Cherry-Evans

8 Jake Trbojevic

9 Matt Ballin

10 Willie Mason

11 Feleti Mateo

12 Tom Symonds

13 Ligi Sao


14 Luke Burgess

15 Jayden Hodges

16 Justin Horo

17 Josh Starling

18 James Hasson

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