In a rematch of the 2011 NRL decider, Manly defeated the Warriors 26-20 at Mt Smart Stadium in Round 1.
The premiers looked like they’d get the job done easily when they raced to a 16-nil lead inside 22 minutes courtesy of tries to David Williams, Daly Cherry-Evans and Steve Matai. However the home side struck back with rapid-fire tries to Manu Vatuvei (30th minute) and Shaun Johnson (34th minute), leaving Manly with a six-point buffer at the halftime break.
The maroon and white surged ahead just three minutes after the resumption of play when Tony Williams crossed from close range off an inside pass from dummy-half, before Kevin Locke added to the Warriors’ tally cleaning up a cross-field bomb on the half hour.
Vatuvei made it a 22-20 scoreline with 12 minutes remaining when he crossed for his second try, capturing Shaun Johnson’s long cut-out pass that took a deflection off a desperate intercept attempt from David Williams. The try came immediately after Manly was reduced to 12 men following hooker Matt Ballin’s sin-binning for a second-effort tackle on Lewis Brown after the man in possession had gotten to his feet 20 metres out following a long break.
Glenn Stewart was the final try-scorer, benefitting from Kevin Locke’s fumble of a Cherry-Evans grubber from close to the goal line to touch down eight minutes from the fulltime siren.
However, the victory came at a cost for the premiers, who lost Glenn Stewart to a broken thumb as well as Steve Matai to a broken wrist.
Both sides looked rusty in their first NRL hit-outs for 2012; each continually handed over possession, with the Warriors making 19 errors and Manly 15, while missed tackles were also a concern for the respective coaches (Warriors 44, Sea Eagles 37).
However, there were encouraging signs from Shaun Johnson, who contributed three try assists for the beaten side.
Manly were best served by second-rower Tony Williams and co-captain Jamie Lyon, who gave the final pass for David Williams to score his first try, as well as adding 139 metres and a line-break.