We still respect Storm: Ballin
Manly hooker Matt Ballin says a brawl between the Sea Eagles and the Storm on Friday night was a result of an emotional build-up to the clash between the NRL's two top teams.
Manly emerged with a comfortable 18-4 win but it was the bench-clearing fight in the first half that was the major talking point from the clash at Brookvale Oval.
The fight was sparked by Melbourne's Adam Blair and Manly's Glenn Stewart, who exchanged words and then punches on their way to the sin bin after an earlier scuffle.
Players from both team's benches entered the fracas, which ended with Stewart and Blair being sent off for the rest of the match.
Ballin said the magnitude of the contest and the pre-match hype had contributed to a tense atmosphere that eventually overflowed.
"It was 1 vs 2 and obviously it spilled over. No one wants to see those scenes but when players put that amount of emotion and that amount of effort into games, you're bound to have something happen," he told BigPond Sports Weekend on Saturday.
"It was obviously disappointing but if you take that away, it was a great game of footy and for the crowd, I think it was a good spectacle.
"It was one of the toughest games I've played in all year and the quality was really good, so if that's an indication of what's to come in the future for the semis, I think it will be a good finals series."
NRL CEO David Gallop, who was at Brookvale Oval as the remarkable scenes unfolded, has already launched an investigation into what he declared a "serious and unacceptable" incident.
Ballin agreed that the fight wasn't a great advertisement for the game, but he hoped Stewart would not be penalised too harshly.
"It's not a great look. I haven't seen too much of it but obviously you don't want your bench players coming on and getting involved as well," he said.
"I'm sure it will be dealt with properly by the judiciary and we'll move on from there.
"They haven't dealt with something like this for a while ... I'm hoping that cool heads prevail. We obviously want to see those two players in the finals. They're great players and (it was) very uncharacteristic like Des [Hasler] and Craig Bellamy have said."
Despite the spiteful confrontation, the mutual respect between the two sides was on display when Manly winger David Williams suffered a season-ending neck injury in the second half.
Scans on Saturday revealed Williams suffered a fractured vertebra in his neck, but the injury is not expected to be career-threatening.
"When we came over, we didn't realise he was injured and then Billy Slater and Anthony Quinn just held (him) there and said 'Don't move him, don't move him.' They were really good," Ballin said.
"'Wolfy' [Williams] must have said something to them in the tackle - that he'd heard something crack in his neck - and they took great responsibility in sitting there and holding him still. Billy had his arm around his shoulder and his neck, just making sure he didn't move. We're very thankful to those guys for that support.
"That just shows the healthy respect the players have for each other. There might have been that fight and other things in the game but the players generally respect each other as opposition.
"We love playing each other; it's a tough game and they're the games that people like to play in. They can see that respect is there."