Manly & Warringah fighting for home ground finals advantage in final round

With one round remaining, Manly and Warringah will both look to secure a top three finish and home ground advantage in the finals when they face Eastwood and Souths respectively this weekend.

While it’s not the ideal preparation for Billy Melrose or Darren Coleman’s sides, both clashes will likely give fans an early taste of finals footy this year.

West Harbour v Parramatta

Both West Harbour and Parramatta failed to deliver on plenty of pre season promise in 2018 and will both be desperate to finish the season on a winning note.

West Harbour aimed up against Warringah last weekend but couldn’t match the defending premiers in the second half without star flanker Kelly Meafua.

After losing just three matches in the first 10 rounds, the Pirates have won just two games in the back end of the season and although they’ll start as favourites against Parramatta, they won’t have things all their own way in the western Sydney derby.

Parramatta almost caused the upset of the season against Manly last weekend and led 16-7 at Manly Oval before eventually going down 31-30.

“We showed last week how we can really play,” Two Blues coach Paul Hardwick said.

“It has been a tough season however the last four games have been the result of a lot of self belief amongst the playing group. The tail end of the season we have demonstrated that we are no easy beats.

“It we can get up against West Harbour this weekend it would be a great reward for our improved performance in the back end of the year.”

One of the Two Blues shining lights this season has been flanker Adrian Musico who has been shortlisted for the Catchpole Medal after a breakout season.

“It’s great to see Adrian get the recognition he deserves. He’s an outstanding player and he is growing into his leadership role. I’ve had a long association with him and even coached him at school, so it’s really pleasing to see him doing so well.”

Southern Districts v Warringah

Southern Districts returned to form with a big win over Gordon last weekend but unfortunately it still won’t be enough to help the Rebels push into the finals.

They’ll look to disrupt Warringah’s road to the playoffs when they host the defending premiers on Saturday.

Matt Barr has named winger Luke Smart in the back row for Saturday’s clash. Smart was picked in the 2006 Australian Schoolboys side as a loose forward and played all his junior rugby in tight, before making the move to the backs after a tough run with injuries.

Waratahs utility Jed Hollaway hasn’t been named to play, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the former Rebels captain pop up at Forshaw on Saturday.

After beating West Harbour last week, Warringah could secure a home semi final in the opening week of the playoffs if they beat the Rebels and other results go their way.

“It was a physical battle against West Harbour and a similar story to a lot of games of late. We ended up wearing them down in the last 20 minutes and scored some nice tries, which was pleasing,” Rats coach Darren Coleman said.

“Souths at Forshaw are hard regardless of the scenario. They’ve got too many good players not to make it a tough game, so we’ll need to be at our best.”

With finals looming, Coleman said it was difficult not to have one eye on the road ahead at this point of the season.

“I think a tough game before playoffs can be a real positive as long as you don’t pick up injuries or burn too much emotional energy.”

Manly v Eastwood

Manly will also be looking to secure a home semi final when they host Eastwood on Saturday but the Marlins won’t be looking too far ahead, after almost going down to 10th placed Parramatta last weekend.

“Credit to Parramatta, they really came to play and dominated possession and territory,” Billy Melrose told Rugby News.

“We got the win but we know our performances have to lift to be a threat from here forward.

It would certainly be nice to get a home semi final. You have to think any advantage in this closely fought comp helps. But we will only get it if we bring a lot more than we have in our most recent performances.”

In the opening week of last year’s finals, sixth placed Eastwood stunned the minor premier Marlins in a match that all but ended Manly’s 2017 premiership hopes. Melrose is wary of another ambush this weekend.

“Eastwood know their way of play very well. You can be fairly sure they will play well on Saturday and they’ve got a big, strong, skilful pack backed by some major threats behind them.”

The Woodies had a chance to rest up ahead of the finals after a bye last weekend but coach John Manenti admitted the week off may not have come at the best time.

“You want momentum this time of year, I feel we’re playing okay at the oment, but the week on week off hasn’t helped in my opinion.”

“Manly will be consistent as usual, they compete every game they play. It’s been a long time since they lost so it won’t be easy.”

Manenti said his side hasn’t spent any time talking about last year’s upset win over the Marlins at Manly Oval.

History matters for little at the end of the day. It was a knock out  game for us and we had something to lose, they didn’t.”

If Eastwood beat Manly and Warringah lose to Souths, the Woodies may return to play the Marlins at Manly Oval again in week one of the finals.

Northern Suburbs v Randwick

Norths reminded the remainder of the competition why they’ve featured prominently on the last weekend of the season for the last two years with a huge performance against Easts at Woollahra last weekend.

The Shoreman were a class above a Beasties outfit that looked poised for an assault on the finals up until last weekend. While Easts will still make the finals, they’ll need to improve significantly over two weeks ahead of their knockout clash against Sydney Uni.

While the minor premiership looks just out of reach for Norths, the Shoreman can lock up second spot with a win over Randwick on Saturday and play the remainder of their games this year at North Sydney Oval.

However that may be easier said than done against a Randwick side desperate to finish a disappointing season on a high.

The Galloping Greens couldn’t match Sydney Uni last week, but have shown glimpses of their best throughout the back end of the season.

While an upset isn’t off the cards, Randwick will need to improve on last week’s performance to challenge a Norths side charging towards a third straight grand final appearance.

Sydney Uni v Gordon

Sydney Uni need a single competition point to wrap up the minor premiership this weekend and it’s difficult to see that not happening when they host Gordon this weekend.

The Students have been at their devastating best in recent weeks and recorded big wins over Souths and Randwick over the last fortnight.

“We created a lot of pressure with our defence again last week,” coach Rob Taylor said.

Taylor has opted against resting players this weekend ahead of the finals and said the majority of his squad wanted to keep playing. He’s also named Wallabies squad member Jake Gordon at No.9 for Saturday’s match, in a timely boost for the likely minor premiers.

“Jake is very passionate about the Uni jersey and I think his energy and standards will be a real boost at this time of year.”

Gordon’s season never really got going this year and while the Highlanders will be eager to put on a good showing, it’s difficult to predict anything but a long day at the office for the side from Chatswood.