Long renowned as the competition’s entertainers, the Tigers confirmed their status as genuine finals contenders with a 34-18 drubbing of the previously high-flying Sea Eagles.
The Tigers wound back the clock with a peerless display of wet weather football as they ran in five tries against a disappointing Manly outfit, and had the 16,311 fans who braved the atrocious sleeting conditions on their feet throughout the match.
The game’s loudest cheer was reserved for a 61st minute streaker, who braved the sub-Antarctic climate in nothing but a pair of aqua reg grundies, but unlike the marauding invader Manly had little to cover their shame as the visitors made 16 errors in a performance that will make for a tough video session later in the week.
Taking little heed of the same defence that held the premiers scoreless last week, the Tigers got away to a flying start when skipper Robbie Farah took advantage of Brett Stewart making a tackle the previous play and finding himself out of position.
Deftly grubbering into a Manly in-goal bereft of their fullback, the NSW hooker diligently pursued his effort and eventually got a hand to his own kick inches inside the dead-ball line to give the Tigers an early 6-0 lead, and Pat Richards extended the lead to eight in the 19th minute with a simple penalty goal from in front.
Watch the NRL LIVE with a 2-week free trial.
Get the NRL Digital Pass now!
While the Tigers played smart wet weather footy, keeping plays simple and punching through the middle of the ruck, Manly proved their own worst enemy as they uncharacteristically pushed passes and completed 10 of their 17 sets for the first half.
In front of their Leichhardt faithful for the first time this year the Tigers were relentless, and when Manly’s resolve eventually cracked the tries came like London buses, one following immediately after the other.
First flying winger David Nofoaluma slid over out wide courtesy of an overlap in the 24th minute, though the youngster’s second try of the season was lost amongst the mire of a melee, sparked by heated words between Steve Matai and Adam Blair.
From the ensuing kick-off later reserve prop Matin Taupau charged upfield like an errant buffalo on nearby King St from the ensuing kick off, powering his way up over the halfway line and skittling Manly’s much vaunted forward pack in the process. Buoyed by Taupau’s run, the Tigers surged forward and Chris Lawrence completed the inevitable when he shrugged off two would-be defenders before stumbling his way over for the Tigers third, and Richards again converting for 20-0 lead after 27 minutes.
With half-time approaching the Tigers could do no wrong and Aaron Woods capped a bullish first half in which he ran for over 100 metres when he surged through a worryingly large hole in the Sea Eagles’ goal-line defence for his first try in over a year in the 32nd minute.
The young bookend almost found himself with a rare double just six minutes later in the wash-up of yet another Manly dropped ball on their own line. However his second try of the afternoon was disallowed after he was ruled to be accidentally offside following a Petu Hiku dropped ball.
With the Tigers displaying tremendous control throughout the first half – they completed 91 per cent of their sets and enjoyed 66 per cent of possession – the Sea Eagles needed something special, and an audacious chip from Jamie Lyon inside his own 20 metres was exactly what the doctor ordered, with the ball sitting up for flying Brett Stewart, and an ensuing penalty for slowing the play down sent the Sea Eagles well downfield.
From the ensuing set, with the scoreboard clock already indicating the half-time siren should have sounded, a Kieran Foran chip kick found his skipper and Lyon’s contentious touchdown gave the Sea Eagles a sliver of hope heading into the sheds down 26-6.
The Tigers began the second half in the same rich vein as the first, with a short kick off handing them prime field position, and yet another Farah grubber kick forcing repeat sets to keep the Sea Eagles under the pump.
Manly had to be the next to score following the resumption, and by all rights should have been, but centre Matai neglected to pass to an unmarked Hiku on his outside and found himself held up over the line by desperate goal line defence.
It proved to be the last chance the Sea Eagles got, as errors crept into both sides in the wet, and in the 53rd minute Nofoaluma scurried across for his second as Manly again coughed up possession in the own half to put the match beyond the visitors' reach.
Matai did belatedly get himself across the line twice more in the 60th and 76th minutes, touching down for Manly’s second and third tries, and while Manly threatened briefly the Tigers closed out the match with another Richards penalty goal for their 10th win in their past 14 starts at Leichhardt.Wests Tigers 34
(Nofoaluma 2, Farah, Lawrence, Woods tries; Richards 7 goals) def Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 18
(Matai 2, Lyon tries; 3 Lyon goals) at Leichhardt Oval. Crowd: