The Titans were sailing along under the radar in third position… now they’ll continue to slip from rugby league minds after Manly embarrassed them 38-4 in the last round of the regular competition.
Already assured of third place and a home semi-final, the Gold Coast had been touted by some as the dark horse of the 2009 premiership race, but now Manly surely must take that mantle.
As much as the Titans were bad, Manly were outstanding. Their defence was close to impenetrable while their attack was simple and effective.
It is the right time of the season to be coming into form and Manly know what it takes come the finals. The Titans are in this position for the first time, and are hoping what happened on Saturday night was not the wheels falling off a successful season.
The Game Swung When… It is fitting the turning point in the game came from a Mat Rogers error – because there were many of them. Ahead 8-0 after an early try and penalty goal, Manly took full advantage when Rogers knocked on returning a kick, just 10 metres out from his line. The game was only 15 minutes old but the night was already an unhappy one for the Queenslander.
From the scrum Manly simply pushed the ball out wide and found an overlap out on Dave ‘Wolfman’ Williams’ wing, and with some good, quick passing Manly were over in the corner for a 12-0 lead.
The Titans desperately tried to come back from the deficit but Manly only had to capitalise on their opponents’ mistakes to pile the points on.
Who Was Hot… Around this time of year some players really love to shine and for Manly those stars are Matt Orford, Anthony Watmough and Brett Stewart.
Orford is showing control over this side with a solid kicking game and good organisation, which is setting up time for his big men to push over the advantage line, giving space to the smaller, speedier backs. He officially had one try assist from the match, but was involved in most of the Sea Eagles’ tries, and scored one himself.
Watmough once again proved he is currently the best second-rower in the NRL with a performance that all but booked him on a flight to Europe with the Australian team at the end of the year. He made the most metres of anyone on the field with 167, and forced errors through his defence.
However Sea Eagles fans must be most excited about the return to form of prop Brent Kite. Last year’s Churchill Medal winner has been quiet for much of the season but the Titans managed to play him back into form, and the big prop was rewarded with a line break, four tackle breaks and 127 metres.
Who Was Not: Just as Manly watched their top players step up, it was the Titans’ most experienced star who kept putting them under pressure. Rogers made four errors in the game, and some of those led directly to tries.
He was switched to fullback before the match, in a plan which coach John Cartwright may revise this week. Winger Kevin Gordon also spilled the ball four times, but made up for it with two line breaks.
Back-rower Mark Minichiello knocked the ball on twice, and both were at crucial times, again putting the Titans under pressure.
With a half century of missed tackles the Titans could not expect to hold out Manly’s attack and once again their stars were the worst – both Scott Prince and Preston Campbell missed six each. However, with possession tipping 70 per cent to Manly in the first half, lapses in defence may be expected.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… In just his second game back after a lay-off through injury, which spanned most of the season, the hill at Brookvale Oval went wild when Brett Stewart scored in the second half.
In typical Stewart fashion, it was a spectacular effort. He followed through on a Matt Orford bomb which confused the Titans’ defenders, but not Stewart. Leaping high above everyone, Stewart caught the ball right next to the goal post, and confused the defenders, who expected to see him appear on the other side of the post. Instead he landed straight down and planted the ball over the line. The Manly faithful knew their try-scoring prodigy was back.
Injuries… The Titans were battered in this game. Utility Luke O’Dwyer was ruled out for the season straight after the match with a leg injury. Ashley Harrison left the field after a knock to the knee but returned and should be okay. Mat Rogers strained his hamstring and will be monitored throughout the week.
Refs Watch: A busy night for Shayne Hayne and Bernard Sutton who blew 15 penalties throughout the match. Inexplicably they sent Titans prop Matthew White to the Sin Bin late in the game for an unintentional strip.
NRL.com Best and Fairest… 3 points – Anthony Watmough (Sea Eagles): Best player on the field, Watmough’s 167 metres in attack was matched by some big hits, forcing errors from the Titans’ big men; 2 points – Brent Kite (Sea Eagles): Was back to his best with 127 metres, a line break, four tackle breaks and 17 tackles; 1 point – Matt Orford (Sea Eagles): Manly’s little general was involved in everything and scored an excellent try straight through the middle of the Titans’ defence.
Sea Eagles 38 (D Williams 2, K Foran, B Farrar, B Stewart, G Hall, M Orford tries; M Orford 5 goals) def Titans 4 (Kevin Gordon try) at Brookvale Oval. Crowd: 14,165.