Shute Shield: Manly & Souths face off in attacking showdown as nine sides battle for top six
With a month left in the regular season, nine teams remain in contention for a spot in the playoffs but that number could reduce dramatically after round 15 this weekend.
Manly v Southern Districts
The Marlins host Souths in the game of the round at Manly Oval on Saturday and if the sun is out, it could easily be one the matches of the season.
The competition’s two best attacking sides are both averaging more than 38 points a match this year and while the Rebels defence has struggled at times, they seem to have tightened things up in recent weeks and have won their last five matches.
Manly scored a late try to salvage a 30-30 draw against Sydney Uni and will go close to wrapping up the minor premiership with a win at Manly Oval, where they haven’t lost in 2017.
While there are interesting match ups right across the park, keep an eye out for the battle of the two Kiwi fullbacks, as both Josh Turner and Jamie Verran look to spark their respective side’s attack.
Penrith v West Harbour
It’s a second straight western Sydney derby for Penrith and another chance to claim an illusive win after falling just short against Parramatta last weekend.
While the Emu’s improvement is obvious, they’ve now missed two golden opportunities to close out matches in recent weeks and Julian Huxley will be desperate for a more consistent performance on Saturday at Nepean.
West Harbour kept their season alive with a late try to Faiva Sailosi sealing an important 29-25 win against Gordon last weekend but if the Pirates want to play finals footy this year, they need to claim maximum points on Saturday.
Northern Suburbs v Gordon
Norths woke up 60 minutes into last weekend’s match against Southern Districts and scored 21 unanswered points to give themselves a shot late in the match, but it was too little too late as the reigning premiers fell four points short and dropped their seventh match in eight rounds.
The Shoreman are now in real danger of missing the top six and really must win against Gordon this week and Parramatta next week to relieve some of that pressure.
But Gordon are in a similar situation and after losing to West Harbour last weekend, the Highlanders must win their final four matches to book a spot in the finals.
While they upset Norths 38-37 at Chatswood Oval last month, Gordon will need to produce their best performance of the season to beat their desperate neighbours.
Warringah v Sydney Uni
Warringah secured their spot in the top three with a convincing win against Easts last weekend and unveiled a new look backline combination with former London Wasps giant Sailosi Tagicakibau shifting from centre to the wing.
Based on last week’s seven-try performance, that move appeared to have worked but interestingly while the Rats attack has remained strong, their defence has been the difference this year and statistically, Warringah are now the competition’s best defensive side.
Sydney Uni’s finals hopes received a boost after last week’s 30-30 draw against Manly but it was a match most of the Students thought they could have won.
The Uni forward pack is expected to be unchanged for the first time in a number of weeks for the Warringah clash, while Ben Hughes is back in the first XV at flyhalf.
If the Students are going to feature in the finals in 2017, this week and next week’s match against Eastwood are crucial.
Eastwood v Eastern Suburbs
There’s no two ways about it, the Woodies are in trouble and have dropped from second to fifth after three straight losses.
Yes, there is still plenty of rugby to be played this year, but heading into matches against seventh placed Sydney Uni and sixth placed Norths, Saturday’s clash against Easts is almost a must win for the 2015 premiers.
Defence and first up tackles has been the major issue for Eastwood in the past month and they’ve leaked 118 points in their last three matches.
While the Woodies will start as favourites, Easts have plenty of points in them and while their 2017 finals hopes are over, the Beasties could easily cause an upset or two in the next few weeks.
Flyhalf Mack Mason will miss the clash after being named on the bench for the Waratahs.
Randwick v Parramatta
Randwick look set for a top three finish after last week’s impressive 32-14 win over Eastwood at TG Millner but Shannon Fraser will be eager to ensure his side doesn’t become complacent in the final month of the regular season.
Fraser has named Northampton Saints young gun Tom Stephenson at outside centre for Saturday’s clash ahead of the return of his Super Rugby players next weekend.
Parramatta picked up their third win of the season against Penrith last weekend but are still looking to claim their first big scalp of the season.
Johnanthon Malo has been named at fullback and will add some much needed spark to the Two Blues attack.