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The Tigers surprised everyone with the fast start last season and were still right in top contention in the final weeks before falling by the wayside and finishing ninth with a 12-12 record.

The biggest change in the off-season was in the coach's chair, with Michael Maguire appointed as Ivan Cleary's successor.

There's a liberal sprinkling of talent and experience throughout the squad but there doesn't appear to be much room for error for this team and a finals berth would be an over-achievement.

The Sea Eagles lurched from one crisis to another last year and were one of the season's most disappointing teams.

Des Hasler has returned as coach and Manly fans are hoping he weaves some of his old magic.

The Rundown

Team News

Wests Tigers: Coach Michael Maguire has stuck with the 17 players he named on Tuesday, with Josh Reynolds and Matt Eisenhuth both cut from the reserves an hour prior to kick-off. Moses Mbye (knee) and David Nofoaluma (shoulder) are out, with Corey Thompson starting at fullback. Mahe Fonua and new signing Robert Jennings are on the wings. Former Roosters Paul Momirovski and Ryan Matterson both start, while Luke Garner replaces Chris Lawrence (broken jaw) in the second row. Young prop Thomas Mikaele will debut off the bench. Jacob Liddle and Chris McQueen were omitted from Maguire's squad on Friday.

Sea Eagles: The Sea Eagles are also 1-17, with Brendan Elliot replacing Tom Trbojevic (hamstring, round three) at fullback and Reuben Garrick to debut on the wing. Kane Elgey is Daly Cherry-Evans' new halves partner, with Trent Hodkinson named on the interchange. Cade Cust and Lloyd Perrett were omitted an hour before kick-off, while Tevita Funa and Lachlan Croker were dropped from the extended bench on Friday.

Key match-up

The battle between the halves should be crucial to the outcome of this Saturday evening meeting. Manly added Kane Elgey from the Titans in the off-season to play alongside Daly Cherry-Evans, while the Tigers stood firm with Benji Marshall and Luke Brooks, with Josh Reynolds coming off the bench.

For the Tigers to win

The aforementioned trio of playmakers need to have a big say if the Tigers are going to prevail. If the likes of Ben Matulino and Russell Packer and can regularly dent the Manly defence, Benji, Brooks and Reynolds can cause all kinds of damage.

For the Sea Eagles to win

The absence of injured fullback Tom Trbojevic and centre Dylan Walker robs Manly of some serious strike power and puts the onus on other players to pick up the slack. The Sea Eagles will be looking to gain an advantage up front through Martin Taupau, Addin Fonua-Blake and Apisai Koroisau.

And another thing

Two teams with new coaches who have each won a premiership. Former Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire is happy to be back in the NRL but faces a tough task matching last year's ninth placing, let alone making the playoffs. The same goes for Hasler, who was lured back after six years with the Bulldogs and faces an uphill battle to get the Sea Eagles into top-eight reckoning.

Brett Kimmorley says ...

We presume it is going to be Robbie's and Benji's final year. As a result, these games at suburban grounds are going to be big deals for the two of them. They love those venues. Luke Brooks was at his best last year and needs to be up challenging for the Dally M Award again this year. The loss of Chris Lawrence is a blow though. Manly have Des Hasler back but are missing a few attacking options. I think Des is going to need to try and strangle a few victories early in the year.
Tigers by 6

Tigers Stat Attack

Marshall turned 34 in February and is yet to indicate if this is his last season. Last year he played in 21 games, scoring three tries and averaging 212.5 kicking metres. Farah, 35, rejoined the Tigers last season after his career appeared to be fading out with the Rabbitohs. He played 11 games after returning, registering a try, four try assists and five line break assists.

Sea Eagles Stat Attack

Legend has it that Martin Taupau, who is nicknamed 'Kapow', is the NRL's strongest player. An avid golfer when he's not playing or training, the 29-year-old was arguably Manly's most consistent performer last year, playing in all 24 of his team's games. Taupau racked up 107 tackle breaks and had 1271.7 post contact metres for the season.

Head to head in the NRL era (since 1998)

  • Played: 27; Sea Eagles 15 wins, Wests Tigers 12 wins
  • Latest result: Wests Tigers won 22-20 in round 24, 2018
  • At this venue: Wests Tigers 58% wins, Sea Eagles 20% wins