Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles preview
3 hours ago | Tim Costello
In-form rivals eye off fourth straight win
Putting aside intense scrutiny surrounding players on and off the field to record three consecutive wins against Brisbane, Newcastle and Canterbury, the St George Illawarra Dragons will be hoping to add the Manly Sea Eagles to their growing list of scalps on Saturday evening.
Posting an emphatic 40-4 demolition of the Bulldogs at Kogarah last Sunday, the Dragons will head to Wollongong for the first time this season eager to maintain a strong record at the venue that has seen the joint venture record 12 wins from 17 appearances since 2015.
Winning their past three clashes against Manly by margins of at least 24 points, coach Paul McGregor will be banking on his side maintaining possession to come away with two competition points - as seen by last week's 85 per cent completion rate - while ensuring the Sea Eagles aren't allowed to keep up with the clock during the opening exchanges.
Unchanged from the side that downed Canterbury, former Parramatta prop Mitchell Allgood is on stand-by for Paul Vaughan should the New South Wales representative fail to recover from an ankle issue sustained in the second half last Sunday.
Blowing the Knights off the park during the opening quarter last Saturday to run out 26-18 winners in Newcastle, the Manly Sea Eagles will be looking to continue an unexpected start to the year by winning their first match in Wollongong since 2003.
Enduring a wretched run at WIN Stadium losing their past six matches by an average of 23 points, coach Des Hasler will be aiming to record only his second win at the venue across 15 seasons as a first grade coach.
Keeping the faith with the same squad that defeated Newcastle last week, Addin Fonua-Blake will miss the next fortnight after being found guilty of a careless high tackle charge at the judiciary despite being named on Tuesday. With the Tongan and New Zealand international sidelined, Kelepi Tanginoa looms as his likely replacement, however former Titan Morgan Boyle could make his club debut after being included on the extended bench.
Endearing himself to the Manly faithful as the heart and soul of the club alongside younger brother Tom, representative forward Jake Trbojevic will play his 100th NRL game on Saturday having progressed through the lower grades before debuting as a teenager in the final round of 2013.
Last meeting: Round 15 2018 - Dragons 32 Sea Eagles 8
Who to watch: Returning to the scene of the foot injury that saw him miss the run to the finals last year, Dragons prop Paul Vaughan has proven to be a quiet achiever over the opening rounds. Averaging over 150 metres and 30 tackles per game, the 27-year-old New South Wales representative has been among the joint venture's best performers, earning eight Dally M votes to stand as the highest-ranked forward and third overall in the entire league. Suffering a minor ankle concern in the win over Canterbury last Sunday, look for Vaughan to show no signs of discomfort and continue his strong start to 2019 with a powerhouse performance at home.
As one of only two current Manly first graders to play under Des Hasler at the start of the decade, Daly Cherry-Evans has thrived under the guidance of the returning premiership winning coach. Playing his 200th NRL game against Newcastle last Saturday, the 30-year-old halfback has played an instrumental role in defying pre-season expectations to place the Sea Eagles in the top eight for the first time in twelve months. Showing plenty of poise as the side's preferred goal kicker - missing just four shots all season - along with nailing a match-winning field goal in extra time a fortnight ago, Cherry-Evans will be out to prove his class on Saturday evening in a fierce duel opposite fellow Queensland playmaker Ben Hunt.
The favourite: Coming off a dominant win and boasting strong recent form in Wollongong, the Dragons are expected to prove too much for the Sea Eagles to handle.
My tip: Widely expected to run last in 2019, the Sea Eagles have thrived over the early rounds and look set to record four straight wins for the first time since mid-2017. Sea Eagles by 12.
1. Matthew Dufty 2. Jordan Pereira 3. Euan Aitken 4. Timoteo Lafai 5. Mikaele Ravalawa 6. Corey Norman 7. Ben Hunt 8. James Graham 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Tariq Sims 13. Blake Lawrie 14. Jeremy Latimore 15. Zac Lomax 16. Jacob Host 17. Luciano Leilua
1. Brendan Elliott 2. Jorge Taufua 3. Moses Suli 4. Brad Parker 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Kane Elgey 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 17. Toafofoa Sipley 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. Martin Taupau 11. Joel Thompson 12. Curtis Sironen 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Manase Fainu 15. Jack Gosiewski 16. Corey Waddell 20. Morgan Boyle
Referees: David Munro, Liam Kennedy; Sideline Officials: Nick Beashel, Mark Bohan; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy, Ben Lowe;