YES, the score flattered Manly. And yes, the Roosters improved on recent efforts. But Brad Fittler’s men need to be wary of marking themselves too easily. They still conceded seven tries and lost by 20 points to a side that continues to show signs of malfunction.
The defending premiers’ fifth win of the season was built on a big advantage in possession. While both sides completed three-quarters of their sets, Manly had 10 more of them and forced their opponents to make 80 tackles more. Matt Orford’s short-kicking game had the Roosters continually scurrying about in their in-goal. The visitors had few chances to attack in Manly territory, but were dangerous with limited possession. While mostly in control, the hosts looked certainties only in the last 10 minutes, and scored twice in the last four to blow out the score.
At the halfway point of their premiership defence, Manly are still endangering their highly-strung coach’s health with erratic, mistake-prone play. That said, they also scored some terrific tries in what was a thoroughly entertaining game, defined by the adventurous spirit of both teams. It was the Sea Eagles’ third win from their past five starts, and every now and again they’re showing flashes of their 2008 selves.
As for the Roosters, they at least left Brookvale with some positives. It’s been around the 20-minute mark of recent games when their enthusiasm has been dropping off. But it was around this time against Manly they stacked on two tries to hit the front and silence the local crowd. After the failed experiment at fullback, Braith Anasta looked happy back at five-eighth. Mark O’Meley dug in and had his best game for a while. The long kicking of Mitchell Pearce and Anasta, while never quite jagging a 40/20, was a highlight. Shaun Kenny-Dowall deserved his two-try reward. And the Roosters looked committed almost to the end.
In other words, you could see the evidence of a period’s soul-searching and some home-truths delivered by club legend Artie Beetson. But the boys from Bondi Junction still have a long way to go.
The Game Swung When… Just before the hour, with the Roosters trailing by just two and on the attack, an ill-judged pass by Mitchell Pearce went to ground and was snapped up by the Wolfman David Williams, who, beneath a full moon, dashed just about the length of the field to score.
There was a moment as Williams collected the ball when it was clear that, if he was able to get rid of Kenny-Dowall, it was goodnight Roosters. Sure enough, a fend did the trick, and the Manly winger had a howling good time on his sprint toward scoring what was effectively the match-winner.
Who Was Hot… Anthony Watmough, whose footwork and grasp of angles tormented the Roosters.
Five-eighth Chris Bailey had some really good touches, as did fullback Michael Robertson.
Who Was Not… Roosters’ winger Sonny Tuigamala, who had a nightmare under the high ball, spilling two pretty easy ones in the early stages, the first leading to a repeat set and Manly’s first try. Orford’s failure to test him some more was a surprise.
Young Tuigamala did do some good work in attack, not something you could say about a subdued Willie Mason.
Craig Fitzgibbon’s one goal from four attempts didn’t help the Roosters’ cause.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Nothing really qualifies, though the play of the day belonged to Chris Bailey, whose pinpoint one-handed pass under pressure for Michael Robertson’s first try must have travelled 15 metres.
Bad Boys… None really, though Steve Matai was penalised for ref abuse after taking exception to being tackled by a Rooster whom Matai thought was off-side. Continued to irritate by playing for these kind of penalties instead of just running the ball.
Refs Watch… Steve Lyons and Ashley Klein were mostly inconspicuous, with no howlers.
NRL Best & Fairest… 3 points – Anthony Watmough (Sea Eagles): A try, two line-breaks and 163 metres from 17 runs tell the story of a fine game; 2 points – Braith Anasta (Roosters): Made good use of limited ball to keep the Roosters in the hunt deep into the match; 1 point – M Orford (Sea Eagles): Canny grubbers and cross-kicks yielded both points and a steady stream of possession.
Sea Eagles 38 (M Robertson 2, S Matai, G Stewart, A Watmough, T Williams, D Williams tries; M Orford 5 goals) def Roosters 18 (S Kenny-Dowall 2, B Jones, S Sa tries; C Fitzgibbon goal) at Brookvale Oval. Crowd: 10,549.