Wooden-spooners in 2016, Manly’s 2017 version of their National Youth Competition team are flying two rounds in, setting up a mouth-watering clash against the similarly unbeaten North Queensland Toyota Cowboys at 1300SMILES Stadium on Saturday.
The young Sea Eagles have posted big wins against the Eels (38-20) and the Rabbitohs (52-20) in their first two outings to lead the competition in its early stages.
The Cowboys are too undefeated, but have produced tighter wins – 28-12 in Week 1 versus the Raiders and 20-18 in Brisbane against the baby Broncos – and sit in third place on the NYC ladder behind the Sea Eagles and defending premiers, the Sydney Roosters.
In fact, the Cowboys' win last week in the Queensland capital wasn’t iced until the 77th minute when clever halfback Jake Clifford scored the go-ahead try, his second for the night.
It was a victory of grit and composure and coach Aaron Payne will look for more of the same when he takes a largely unchanged team into the game.
Fullback Kalyn Ponga has been called into the Cowboys’ NRL team as cover for injured custodian Lachlan Coote, with Nathan Traill moving to fullback and Kurt Wiltshire coming on to the wing for just his second NYC match.
“Not having Kalyn will be a loss to us, but in saying that, he doesn’t regularly train with us as he’s in the NRL squad and Trailly will get a chance to be more involved in the game from fullback,” Payne said.
“And for Kurt Wiltshire, he gets another chance after being one of our best in the trials, and in the past couple of weeks with the Blackhawks (under-20s).”
Elsewhere, forward Jack Glossop is slated to make his NYC debut off the bench, while prop Jack Lote has been promoted to the starting side as regular No.8 Kaleb Fuimaono recovers from a work injury incurred during the week.
“Like Kurt, Jack has been impressive with the Blackhawks and he gets his chance,” Payne said.
Lock Corey Horsburgh will be looking to continue a superb start to 2017, the tireless No.13 producing an average of 150-plus running metres and 34 tackles in two games so far.
Payne said the 2017 Sea Eagles NYC only had a handful of players from the 2016 squad and would not be underestimated.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 5.45pm.