THEY’RE still not in the form that conquered all before them last season but Manly looked dangerously self-assured in reducing the Rabbitohs to roadkill at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
At least some of the fluency of last season is back – especially with Jamie Lyon scoring 16 points and the brilliant Brett Stewart adding a brace of tries to his hat-trick last week.
The defending premiers were more than equal to anything Souths could throw at them. Building on the previous week’s confidence-restoring win against Wests Tigers, the Sea Eagles’ forwards showed more of the power that made them such a formidable unit last year, pushing hard up the middle to wear down their opponents.
Souths started at a rattling pace, speeding off the rucks, making good ground and sweeping the ball wide. But they proved their own worst enemy, bombing two tries in the space of 10 minutes and proving dodgy down their left side. Lousy handling, excessive penalties (six to the Sea Eagles’ three) and a poor completion rate of 23 sets against Manly’s 34 put the Rabbitohs out of contention against their increasingly disciplined and well-organised opponents.
On top of this, Manly received impressive service from their halves, who gave them plenty of ball with which to harry the increasingly weary and rattled Rabbitohs. Unlike Souths, the largely mistake-free Manly seized their chances thanks to Lyon and Brett Stewart in the first half, and Stewart again in the second. And with 56 per cent of the ball, Manly had ample opportunity to attack – to the extent that at one stage the Rabbitohs were under the gun for 10 minutes or more as they tried to protect their line.
The Game Swung When… This was really a game of one half. Despite Souths’ remarkable fighting spirit this season, it was thank you linesmen, thank you ball boys at the break.
With an 18-0 lead, Manly never looked like losing and a walkover seemed inevitable. But despite having the personnel, the possession and plenty of time, Manly surprisingly didn’t go for the jugular. After cruising along all game, they lost much of their momentum, letting the Rabbitohs in twice. Compounding this, they also became over-elaborate, evidenced by with the late intercept that put Nathan Merritt over just before the end.
Who Was Hot… Jamie Lyon was busy and effective all game, scoring two-thirds of his team’s points. Four from four conversions was the icing on the cake. Brett Stewart did everything expected of him – which is a truckload these days. His two tries were crackers and he did a good job defusing the few attacking forays that came his way.
All the Manly forwards were in top form. As usual Anthony Watmough played hard and strong, making 10 tackle breaks and tenderising his opponents with his nine hit-ups. He paid special attention to Souths halfback Chris Sandow, who had been heavily criticised all week for his high number of missed tackles. Sandow missed nine in this game but was sharp when he had the ball, pleasing coach Jason Taylor.
Once again Matt Orford played a perfect general’s game. He was in everything but a bath. Brent Kite (17 hit-ups for 162 metres) caused plenty of damage in taking up the ball, particularly in the first half. Craig Wing was the best of the Bunnies, never giving up in a beaten side. A deceptively powerful package, he thoroughly deserved his try, in which he spun out of four tackles to score. Nathan Merritt was impressive, chewing up 148 metres all told. Eddy Pettybourne tackled his heart out (28) after coming off the bench.
Who Was Not… The normally dangerous playmaker John Sutton had an unusually ineffective game by his standards even before he came off injured (later to return). David Fa’alogo had an unhappy day with his handling and missed tackles. Roy Asotasi and Luke Capewell were handy in terms of metres gained but made mistakes in bad places.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Late in the first half Manly won a scrum against the feed, but were evidently so shocked that they immediately knocked on.
Injuries… John Sutton left the field with a corked calf but came back on later. Towards the end Brett Stewart appeared to be have a slight limp so was put on the wing out of harm’s way.
Bad Boys… Souths’ Jamie Simpson was put on report for knees in a tackle on Brett Stewart, not that there appeared any intent. The match review committee agreed.
Refs Watch… Nothing to praise or howl about here. It was pretty much an error-free performance, with the refs just getting on with the job and mostly keeping out of the picture.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Jamie Lyon (Sea Eagles): Mr Everywhere in this game. Two tries and was deadly with his feet in every aspect, as the score attests; 2 points – Brett Stewart (Sea Eagles): While not as spectacular as last week, dynamite nevertheless with two offloads, a line break, 104 metres and two tries; 1 point – Craig Wing (Rabbitohs): Getting into his stride after a disrupted start to his season. Made 41 tackles and scored a determined try.
Sea Eagles 24 (J Lyon 2, B Stewart 2 tries; J Lyon 4 goals) def Rabbitohs 8 (C Wing, N Merritt tries). Crowd:14,225.