Reigning premiers Manly announced themselves as premiership contenders once again with a thrilling 19-12 win over the high-flying Bulldogs at Brookvale Oval on Monday night.
Trailing 12-7 with less than 15 minutes remaining, the Sea Eagles took the lead through a Matt Orford sideline conversion after a David Williams try, then sealed victory when Josh Perry reached out to score in the dying seconds to move the side to sixth place on the NRL ladder.
It was a massive win for Manly, who have struggled for consistency this season but are finally starting to show signs of the form that propelled them to a stunning 40-0 win over Melbourne in last year’s grand final.
Scores were locked at 6-all shortly before half-time after tries to Glenn Stewart and Josh Morris, Orford firing an unexpected field-goal with the siren about to sound to give the home side a 7-6 lead at the break.
It could have been more but for two disallowed tries to recent recruit Ben Farrar, who knocked on both times before grounding the football.
But it was the Bulldogs – under the pump for much of the game – that looked set to steal the win when Morris crossed for his second and a 12-7 lead midway through the second half.
Surprisingly, it was Hazem El Masri’s narrow sideline miss that kept the door ajar and Williams scored the crucial four-pointer with 12 minutes remaining following a nicely constructed backline move.
Orford nailed the conversion to give Manly a 13-12 lead and Perry then crashed over in the dying seconds to seal a famous win.
The Game Swung When… Hazem El Masri missed the conversion that would have given the Bulldogs a seven-point lead midway through the second half.
Manly had dominated much of the game and although they hadn’t capitalised they always looked to have more points in them.
A seven-point lead would have made their task all the more difficult but instead it was the Bulldogs playing catch-up once Williams scored out wide and Orford added the extras to give the home side the lead heading into the home stretch.
Who Was Hot… NSW lock Anthony Watmough was a real handful for the home side and notched up plenty of metres while Josh Perry was also impressive up front.
Halfback Matt Orford looked dangerous throughout.
Luke Patten and Michael Hodgson were the Bulldogs’ best.
Who Was Not… It was a forgettable night out for Bulldogs five-eighth Ben Roberts.
Roberts has enjoyed a superb season but at Brookvale his passes were wayward and he failed to make any positive impact on the game for the visiting side. He tried too hard.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Former Cowboys winger Ben Farrar must be wondering what he has to do to score.
Twice he had first half-tries disallowed – the first after an in-goal scramble in which he knocked the ball forward onto the leg of Josh Morris before grounding it; the second after knocking the ball down before racing 60 metres to touch down between the posts.
Injuries… Gary Warburton (Bulldogs) – jaw, indefinite.
Bad Boys… Three Dangerous Throw charges will see three players miss a total of seven games between them with early guilty pleas – Sea Eagle Heath L’Estrange will get three weeks, while Bulldogs pair Greg Eastwood and Bryson Goodwin will each spend a fortnight on the sidelines.
Refs Watch… Bulldogs coach Kevin Moore rightly questioned how Manly centre Steve Matai wasn’t even penalised for an obvious high tackle on Gary Warburton that may have left the Bulldogs forward with a broken jaw. Other than that it was a solid performance by Jared Maxwell and Tony Archer in a match in which tensions were often at boiling point.
NRL.com Best and Fairest… 3 points – Anthony Watmough (Sea Eagles): Worked tirelessly, ran for a game-high 164 metres and produced 39 tackles for the home side; 2 points – Josh Perry (Sea Eagles): Was powerful up front, scoring the final try and running for 124 metres; 1 point – Luke Patten (Bulldogs): The Bulldogs’ custodian was excellent at the back, running for 144 metres and looking dangerous with the ball in hand.
Sea Eagles 19 (G Stewart, D Williams, J Perry tries; M Orford 3 goals, field-goal) def Bulldogs 12 (J Morris 2 tries; H El Masri 2 goals) at Brookvale Oval. Crowd: 15,510.