A second straight loss was not how Manly coach Des Hasler wanted to celebrate his contract extension with the Sea Eagles last week.
But the wily 60-year-old knows a premiership is not won in the opening two rounds. Still, he will need to get his charges firing soon, which might spell bad news for the Dragons even though they're at home in Wollongong on Friday.
But from what the Dragons produced in the tropical heat of Townsville, a gutsy 25-18 win over the Cowboys, Manly will meet a rejuvenated side with the backing of a home crowd behind them.
Coach Anthony Griffin praised his halves Ben Hunt and Corey Norman for their direction and experience last week - something Hasler will want from his veteran No.7 and No.6.
Dragons v Sea Eagles
Match: Dragons v Sea Eagles
Round 3 -
Venue: WIN Stadium, Wollongong
Dragons: The team will start 1-17 after Kaide Ellis and Jackson Ford were left out an hour before kick-off.
The only occupant of the Red V injury ward close to a return is halfback Jayden Sullivan, who is at least a week away with a hamstring injury.
Adam Clune and Jordan Pereira were omitted from the reserves list on Thursday night.
The Dragons have won five of their past six games against Manly.
Sea Eagles: Manly will start 1-13, with the only change coming on the bench, with Toafofoa Sipley (No.20) making the final 17. Morgan Boyle and Tevita Funa were the two players omitted an hour before kick-off.
Bench utility Cade Cust has passed his concussion protocols and will take his place against the Dragons.
Talented youngster Josh Schuster will replace back-rower Andrew Davey, who suffered a season-ending ruptured ACL in the loss to South Sydney.
Manly's back-row stocks are low with Curtis Sironen (knee, round six) and Haumole Olakau'atu (elbow, indefinite) also unavailable for selection.
Superstar custodian Tom Trbojevic is nearing a return but is expected to miss at least one more week so the Dylan Walker experiment at fullback will continue despite Hasler contemplating a backline shake-up in the wake of the Rabbitohs loss.
The Sea Eagles have not won in Wollongong since 2003.
Match: Dragons v Sea Eagles
Round 3 -
Fullback for Dragons is number 1 Matt DuftyFullback for Sea Eagles is number 1 Dylan Walker
Winger for Dragons is number 2 Cody RamseyWinger for Sea Eagles is number 2 Jason Saab
Centre for Dragons is number 3 Jack BirdCentre for Sea Eagles is number 3 Brad Parker
Centre for Dragons is number 4 Zac LomaxCentre for Sea Eagles is number 4 Moses Suli
Winger for Dragons is number 5 Mikaele RavalawaWinger for Sea Eagles is number 5 Reuben Garrick
Five-Eighth for Dragons is number 6 Corey NormanFive-Eighth for Sea Eagles is number 6 Kieran Foran
Halfback for Dragons is number 7 Ben HuntHalfback for Sea Eagles is number 7 Daly Cherry-Evans
Prop for Dragons is number 8 Blake LawrieProp for Sea Eagles is number 8 Taniela Paseka
Hooker for Dragons is number 9 Andrew McCulloughHooker for Sea Eagles is number 9 Lachlan Croker
Prop for Dragons is number 10 Paul VaughanProp for Sea Eagles is number 10 Martin Taupau
2nd Row for Dragons is number 11 Josh Kerr2nd Row for Sea Eagles is number 11 Jack Gosiewski
2nd Row for Dragons is number 12 Tariq Sims2nd Row for Sea Eagles is number 12 Josh Schuster
Lock for Dragons is number 13 Tyrell FuimaonoLock for Sea Eagles is number 13 Jake Trbojevic
Interchange for Dragons is number 14 Poasa FaamausiliInterchange for Sea Eagles is number 14 Cade Cust
Interchange for Dragons is number 15 Trent MerrinInterchange for Sea Eagles is number 16 Sean Keppie
Interchange for Dragons is number 16 Daniel AlvaroInterchange for Sea Eagles is number 17 Josh Aloiai
Interchange for Dragons is number 17 Brayden WiliameInterchange for Sea Eagles is number 20 Toafofoa Sipley
- Referee: Chris Sutton
- Touch Judge: Nick Beashel
- Touch Judge: Kasey Badger
- Senior Review Official: Chris Butler
Ben Hunt v Daly Cherry-Evans: Hunt worked closely with his rival skipper as Maroons teammate in the opening two Origin games last year, so he knows Cherry-Evans' likes and dislikes. Which will come in handy as the pair square off at halfback this week.
They both like to put the ball on the toe to keep field position in their team's favour so their kicking duel will be as interesting as their organisational skills.
Hunt caused havoc with his running game against North Queensland, scoring an impressive solo try, so Cherry-Evans and Manly will have to be on their toes.
The Dragons snaring their first victory for 2021 last weekend means they've broken the nexus of starting the season with back-to-back losses - something they did in both 2019 and 2020.
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