IT was meant to be a battle of the cellar-dwellers… but this match was anything but. This was exciting. This was high intensity. This was a must-win clash between both battling teams – and people will be talking about it for weeks to come.
The Cowboys started in great fashion when Ben Farrar burst on to a bobbling Travis Burns kick before Sea Eagle Glenn Hall capitalised on a basic North Queensland error on their own line. It went tit for tat for the rest of the first half and most of the second, but only before the Cowboys put their opposition to the sword and showed they’re still a force in this year’s premiership.
The Game Swung When… The Cowboys attacked the Sea Eagles’ line in the 65th minute. After withstanding several attacking raids, Manly just couldn’t hold on any longer. Down 20-12, Matt Bowen’s 65th minute try put their challenge to rest.
On the last tackle, a left-hand shift saw Thurston dummy into space before linking with Luke O’Donnell. He charged forward before drawing David ‘Wolfman’ Williams and passing to Willie Tonga. The former Bulldog attracted two defenders before putting the ball on a silver platter for Bowen to crash over for the decisive points. It was a great try and a fitting way for the match to be decided.
Who Was Hot… Second-rower O’Donnell pushed for Origin selection with another powerful performance. Not only was he dominant around the centre of the field, charging for 147 metres, but the former Wests Tiger also played a huge part in the Cowboys’ pointscoring. His support play on Bowen’s first try was brilliant, as was his defence all night long, with 17 tackles.
Who Was Not… Inconsistent second-rower Anthony Watmough had an up-and-down night. While he did some good things, like effecting important tackles and running for an admirable 92 metres, he let himself down in other areas. He committed one crucial error deep inside his own half late in the match and missed an obvious tackle on Scott Bolton that led to a try. As a senior member of the Sea Eagles’ pack, more is expected of the man they call ‘Choc’.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… The hits kept coming all night long and players will wake in the next week still sore in what was an ultra-physical encounter.
Of particular note in this Origin-like clash was Manly centre Steve Matai’s brutal, textbook hit on Ben Harris. It sent Harris into Disneyland and gave his team an important boost in the second half, with Chris Bailey scoring soon after.
There were other big hits throughout the clash, including a Watmough brute on Ben Farrar, but Matai’s stands above and beyond as one of the hits of recent years.
Injuries… Ben Harris was in some discomfort after Matai’s bellringer but played on. From the opening whistle it was obvious the Sea Eagles missed fullback Brett Stewart who remains sidelined with a knee injury. No major injury concerns were evident immediately after the match.
Bad Boys… Luke O’Donnell soured his night with a contrary conduct charge levelled by the match review committee after a first-half blow-up (see below); he’ll miss a week.
Refs Watch… The experienced Gavin Badger and Steve Lyons both had a fair amount of work on their hands. The duo blew a total of 14 penalties and sent Lyons sent O’Donnell to the sin bin in the first half for what was labelled a ‘fracas’ after the Cowboy came in and threw punches at Sea Eagle Jason King, who was penalised for a high tackle.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Luke O’Donnell (Cowboys): Kept his team on top with a dominant performance in a roving role; 2 points – Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys): Dominant in attack and nearing top form. Opposition teams in future weeks will be nervous; 1 point – Steve Matai (Sea Eagles): Ran for 136 metres and was brutal in defence.
Cowboys 26 (M Bowen 2, B Farrar, S Bolton tries; Thurston 5 goals) def Sea Eagles 12 (G Hall, C Bailey tries; Lyon 2 goals) at Dairy farmers Stadium. Crowd: 16,153.