Cronulla coach Ricky Stuart was adamant the Sharks were the better team in this entertaining match between two old rivals, where some controversial refereeing decisions and injuries helped the 2008 premiers jump into the top eight for just the second time this season.
The Sharks were uncharacteristically scoring points at will in the first half, and Manly were uncharacteristically letting them in. However, possession turned in the second half and Manly were eventually able to seal the win. Their defence was exemplary, only conceding one try in the final minute of the game. It was a significant victory for the Sea Eagles – heading to Toyota Stadium following State of Origin was always going to be difficult, and this win will set up the rest of their season.
The Game Swung When… After going into half-time down 22-16 – a scoreline both teams would expect as a full-time result – Manly made the most of a controversial sin bin to level the score.
Bizarrely this try was grown from a terrible fifth-tackle option by Manly, ending with Glenn Stewart wrapped up 20 metres further back from where the Sea Eagles started. As Cronulla tried to work it out from their end Jack Afamasaga threw an offload to his old team-mate Anthony Watmough, who sprinted away towards the tryline. ‘Choc’ was brought down a couple of metres short by Trent Barrett, with help from Luke Covell. However Watmough dropped the ball as he got up, with referee Steve Lyons ruling it was due to Barrett hanging on too long, prompting a 10-minute stint in the bin. In the ensuing set George Rose powered over the line and it was 22-all.
The Sharks barely saw the ball for the next 20 minutes and with two more Manly tries they were frozen out of the game.
Who Was Hot… Watmough has become one of the true enforcers in the game during the past month. Two outstanding performances for New South Wales have refined his game; he’s keeping his toughness and hard hits, but eliminating his mistakes.
Against the Sharks he almost replicated his Origin III effort, pulling off a huge hit on Sharks prop Johnny Mannah. He made 114 metres, one line break and three tackle breaks.
Manly are also starting to get the best out of their youngsters including Kieran Foran, who scored a try.
Skipper Matt Orford is directing his team like he did last season when he was crowned Dally M winner – here he contributed a telling try assist and 60 touches.
For the Sharks five-eighth Barrett was outstanding, while young winger Blake Ferguson scored a try and spectacularly set up another. Also, Kade Snowden toiled hard all game.
Who Was Not… Returning from injury Jamie Lyon had a quiet game for Manly, while the Sharks’ hookers also failed to have any impact. Terence Seu Seu missed six tackles.
Also coming off the Sharks’ bench was Jack Afamsaga, who passed the wayward ball for Watmough to make the play that broke the game open for Manly.
At times Manly’s structure fell apart too, with some terrible fifth-tackle options often ending up in the hands of a forward. Big winger Tony Williams looked like he was playing in slow motion at times, and was often found out of position.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Greg Inglis is Blake Ferguson’s favourite player, and this youngster is already emulating his hero with some astounding athletic plays.
Just a few weeks after scoring a try when his entire body was mid-air and out of field, Ferguson once again produced a play that defied the laws of physics. Heading towards the sideline, Ferguson planted one foot inside the sideline, took off and when he was in the air, launched the ball back in-field. It was a perfect no-look pass that ended up in the hands of Ben Pomeroy, who was able to plant it just before being rolled into touch.
The move was reminiscent of the try in last year’s Centenary Test when Inglis threw the ball back in for Mark Gasnier to score. For a rookie barely into double-figure first grade games, it was a miraculous play.
Injuries… After providing the line break and pass for Pomeroy’s first try in the first half, Anthony Tupou pulled up with a sore hamstring and failed to return.
In the 55th minute centre Matt Wright joined him on the sideline after injuring his right ankle. Both will be assessed this week to determine the extent of those injuries.
Refs Watch… The Toyota Stadium crowd believed their performances terrible, and it’s true most of the 50:50 calls went against the Sharks. Sin-binning Barrett was probably the correct decision but Stuart was fuming after the match, believing his team did not get any good calls.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Anthony Watmough (Sea Eagles): Backed up from Origin III with another outstanding performance, punishing in attack and defence; 2 points – Kade Snowden (Sharks): The Sharks’ prop stayed on the field for 80 minutes and made 48 tackles, and 102 metres, the most of any Sharks forward; 1 point – Kieran Foran (Sea Eagles): The rookie was solid with a line break, a try, 30 tackles and five tackle breaks.
Sea Eagles 32 (D Williams, T Williams, K Foran, B Farrar, B Kite, G Rose tries, M Orford 4 goals) def Sharks 26 (B Pomeroy 2, B Ferguson, M Wright, L Covell tries; L Covell 3 goals) at Toyota Stadium. Crowd: 10,114.