Like a heavyweight boxer who just doesn’t know when he’s beaten, Manly have dragged themselves off the canvas for one last shot at the title. Meanwhile the Roosters are staggering around semi-conscious and waiting for the September smelling salts to let them know their horror season is actually over.
Critics suggested Manly had been dealt knock-out blows when they dropped games against the Wests Tigers and South Sydney, but with a clinical 80-minute performance the Sea Eagles proved that there is still some life in this team, even if the legs are a little wobbly.
Despite the scoreline suggesting a blowout, it wasn’t one-sided, with Manly adopting a more methodical approach to the game rather than trying to play the expansive ‘one-side-of-the-field-to-the-other’ style that has landed them in trouble in recent weeks.
Having said that, they will be pleased to have blown a few cobwebs away after struggling to cross the line in recent weeks – and they’ll be even more pleased by the sight of a jovial Brett Stewart strutting around their dressing rooms post-match. He’s only two weeks away from taking the field for the Sea Eagles again this year, and his mere presence changes the whole attitude of this team.
As it was, they never would’ve needed him against the Roosters as it was a game where the Sea Eagles were hardly threatened.
From the moment Glenn Stewart carried three defenders for 10 metres to score the opening try, Manly didn’t appear like getting out of cruise control.
A long-range try to Rooster Shaun Kenny-Dowall, where he brushed aside Steve Matai, Ben Farrar, Josh Perry and Michael Robertson in a fantastic 60-metre run, was the only distraction for the away side and order was quickly restored when David Williams score a sensational try in the 19th minute.
That was backed up by a second in the 34th minute which, along with a penalty goal and accurate goal-kicking from Matt Orford, gave Manly a handy 20-6 lead at halftime.
While the result was never really in doubt, there was a turning point which saw Manly really drop the hammer…
The Game Swung When… Matt Orford scooped up an errant Roosters pass and the crowd held their breath wondering whether the Manly skipper’s little legs would carry him the required 70 metres.
They needn’t have worried – Orford sped away from a tired Roosters outfit that has one eye firmly fixed on Mad Monday celebrations. Orford’s try broke their spirits and sparked a run of four tries in 20 minutes that indicated the Sea Eagles still have some shots to fire in the Premiership race. Among those four was a double to durable Manly fullback Michael Robertson, who was playing in his 100th consecutive game since moving to the Sea Eagles.
Who Was Hot… Manly were well led by the usual suspects with Glenn Stewart (110 metres, one try, 29 tackles, eight tackle breaks), Anthony Watmough (154 metres, three offloads) and Jason King (123 metres, a try) leading the way in the forwards while Matt Orford (a try, a try assist, 18 kicks for 521 metres and 28 points) controlled the game nicely.
Enigmatic winger David Williams returned to some form after a horror six weeks by crossing for a double, while Robertson celebrated his 100th consecutive game for Manly in style with two tries.
For the Roosters, only Parramatta-bound Shane Shackleton had any impact on the game – the red-headed back-rower powered his way to 118 metres off the bench, but he was the only Rooster to crack three figures.
Which brings us to…
Who Was Not… Anthony Minichiello (four errors) had a rare off-night for the tri-colours, and the experiment of using the man who was formerly the best fullback in the world at five-eighth doesn’t appear to work on any levels at this stage. Mini stunted the attack and never settled into a role.
The Roosters’ forward pack was well and truly beaten by their bigger Manly counterparts, and aside from Shackleton the rest of the ‘grunt men’ from Bondi had very little to cheer about.
They weren’t alone in the missed-tackles department, but it spoke volumes that the Roosters’ three playmakers (Minichiello, Mitchell Pearce and Jake Friend) missed a combined 15 tackles. It seemed to rock their confidence because points were a lot harder to come by than missed tackles for this trio.
Manly centre Steve Matai was very poor for the winning side – he is well down on his 2008 form and had a bad miss in the lead-up to Kenny-Dowall’s try, while he also came up with two errors while Manly were on the attack.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… David Williams first try. An error from Anthony Minichiello with the Roosters on the attack was swooped upon by Manly centre Jamie Lyon who toed the ball ahead and started a footrace, but as Sam Perrett and Iwi Hauraki gathered ground he never had the opportunity to scoop the ball up – allowing only another kick ahead instead.
Lyon’s second kick came from a rough bounce and he only just connected with his knee, but it was enough to shift the ball into the path of the Wolfman, who soccered the ball ahead himself and then managed to win the race by outpacing Hauraki for one of the more eye-catching tries of his career.
Injuries…. Steve Matai picked up an eye injury early; he struggled with it throughout the match and will have scans this week.
Refs Watch… Wolfman’s second try, given Benefit Of The Doubt, garnered criticism from some sections and looked a 50/50 proposition at best. But that’s what benefit of the doubt is for, right?
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Glenn Stewart (Sea Eagles): Has an insatiable appetite for work, made 110 metres from 15 runs, 29 tackles, scored a try and had a hand in Manly’s right-hand side attack all night; 2 points – Matt Orford (Sea Eagles): Was the mastermind behind the win, and a shade off man of the match. Orford’s kicking game put Manly on the front foot and his try iced the game; 1 point – David Williams (Sea Eagles): Bounced back to form with an inspired first half, including a brace of tries which set up the win.
Sea Eagles 44 (D Williams 2, M Robertson 2, G Stewart, M Orford, J King; M Orford 6 goals, J Lyon 2 goals) def Roosters 12 (S Kenny-Dowall, I Hauraki; C Fitzgibbon 2 goal) at the Sydney Football Stadium. Crowd: 9,968.