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63 mins ago | Justin Davies
Warriors get a boost ahead of battle with bottom-placed side
While the tangible benefits are still a couple of months away, the announcement of a New Zealand-Australia travel bubble which is set to commence in the coming weeks gives the Warriors something to look forward to later this year, as they focus their sights this week on the last-placed Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles.
Forced into hosting matches in Australia since the COVID-19 pandemic began impacting the game in May last year, the Warriors will call Central Coast Stadium home until June this year, with the aim of heading home after the representative round to host the Dragons at Mt Smart Stadium.
For now though, it's all about ensuring the NRL's most nomadic team of recent years are well-placed by the time they can make that trek back over the Tasman. This week's test looks easy on paper - overcome a Manly team who are yet to lay down a serious challenge to any of their four opponents thus far in 2021.
With the Warriors - we know they try. Even in a 20-point loss to the Roosters on Sunday, they looked confident and willing to try their hand, and were arguably in the contest well into the second half. Playing a full 80 is probably the Auckland side's biggest issue so far this year, but it's jagged them a couple of wins and should arguably do so again here.
Manly are just in all sorts, if we're being totally honest. Hampered by injury - star fullback Tom Trbojevic headlining a host of unavailable players which also includes Jorge Taufua, Curtis Sironen and now centre Moses Suli - the Sea Eagles are becoming increasingly reliant on their star halves pairing of Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans. The pair formed the premiership-winning combination in 2011 at the same club but since Foran's return to Brookvale, they haven't been able to dictate terms for a side which is sorely lacking in troops and facing a massive test of depth.
Team news this week is pretty significant for both sides. The Warriors have shuffled their pack on the back of a knee injury to ex-Manly prop Addin Fonua-Blake, while Bayley Sironen is out with a shoulder concern and Bunty Afoa will miss this game through suspension. Tohu Harris moves to the front row with Jack Murchie joining the second row in his place. Three new faces come onto the bench - Tom Ale, former Eel Kane Evans, and Josh Curran.
Manly's changes are only forced ones - Morgan Harper replaces Suli at centre, while Jack Gosiewski is back into the starting pack to cover Morgan Boyle who is both suspended and injured. Toafofoa Sipley is the new face on the interchange.
Last meeting: Round 20 2020 - Warriors 40 Sea Eagles 28
Who to watch: The impact play of two bench stars will be worth watching this Friday. For the Warriors, new signing Ben Murdoch-Masila has put in some solid shifts since returning to the NRL after a stint in the Super League with perennial bridesmaids Warrington.
The Sea Eagles nabbed the signature of former Tiger Josh Aloiai not long before the season started and so far he's yet to have the impact Des Hasler would've wanted in the Manly forward line. Overlooked for the starting prop role in favour of Taniela Paseka, he needs some strong form to regain his spot starting up front.
The favourite: Warriors. Nobody's picking Manly.
My tip: It's genuinely hard to see where Manly improve enough to overcome the Warriors, even allowing for the fact the 'home' side here have an injury crisis of their own. The superstar presence of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck alone should see the hosts across the line at Gosford, and dig the ditch deeper for a Manly side already wondering whether re-signing coach Des Hasler was the right call. Warriors by 36.
1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 2. David Fusitu'a 3. Adam Pompey 4. Marcelo Montoya 5. Ken Maumalo 6. Kodi Nikorima 7. Sean O’Sullivan 8. Leeson Ah Mau 9. Wayde Egan 10. Tohu Harris 11. Eliesa Katoa 12. Jack Murchie 13. Jazz Tevaga 14. Ben Murdoch-Masila 15. Tom Ale 16. Kane Evans 20. Paul Turner 17. Josh Curran
1. Dylan Walker 2. Jason Saab 3. Brad Parker 4. Morgan Harper 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Kieran Foran 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Taniela Paseka 9. Lachlan Croker 17. Josh Aloiai 11. Jack Gosiewski 12. Josh Schuster 13. Jake Trbojevic 10. Martin Taupau 15. Toafofoa Sipley 16. Sean Keppie 18. Tevita Funa 19. Zac Saddler
Referees: Chris Butler; Sideline Officials: Belinda Sharpe, Wyatt Raymond; Video Referees: Matt Noyen;