Valiant Manly edge Souths in thriller
A valiant Manly Sea Eagles outfit have outlasted South Sydney to win a low-scoring thriller 14-12 in front of 15,120 fans in Gosford.
A 77th-minute penalty goal from Jamie Lyon proved the difference between the two sides in a brutal second half punctuated by a series of massive hits.
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Manly's inexperienced forward pack suffered an extra shock before kick-off when Glenn Stewart was ruled out and Jesse Sene-Lefao was brought in, but the forwards did a remarkable job of containing the monster Rabbitohs pack, particularly in defence.
Souths were left ruing a mountain of turnovers and missed opportunities but for Manly it was a resolute defensive effort that laid the platform for the win.
Manly had largely the better of an incredibly scrappy and uncharacteristic first 40 from both sides, but would have been deeply disappointed to only lead 6-4 at the break as the Rabbitohs' defence held firm under pressure.
Souths in particular struggled to control the ball and brought nothing like the level of intensity they showed in their victorious season opener against the Roosters.
Halfback Adam Reynolds had an off night with the boot with some poor last tackle kicks, including one mid-field bomb that went backwards and led to a Cherry-Evans half break. He compounded that with a missed conversion attempt that hit the post from almost in front - two points lost that would have been crucial in the final wash-up.
After Manly quickly coughed up the ball in the opening set of the match South Sydney handed it straight back to set the tone for the half.
After some missed attacking opportunities from both sides Manly opened the scoring in the seventh minute as fullback Peta Hiku managed an offload to Steve Matai close to the line despite significant attention from the Souths defence, with Matai able to send winger Cheyse Blair over in the corner.
Hiku and Matai almost repeated the dose in the 30th minute but a muscular tackle from Souths fullback Greg Inglis saved the day.
After South Sydney were able to absorb several repeat sets from Manly late in the half, Manly eventually opted to take a penalty goal in the 34th minute to stretch their lead to six but it lifted the pressure on the Rabbitohs and when Dunamis Lui made a mistake shortly after the restart it put Souths on the attack.
When Watmough tapped the arm of dummy half Issac Luke close to the line Sam Burgess was on hand to clean up the loose ball and dive over untouched. It should have levelled the scores but for Reynolds' off night with the boot, hitting the post with a straightforward attempt.
Both sides came out firing after the break with the Burgess brothers and Issac Luke laying on some massive hits, while Jason King and Anthony Watmough returned fire for Manly.
A brilliant run from the in-goal from Rabbitohs winger Nathan Merritt, who had an outstanding game, got his side close to halfway and laid the platform for a try to Beau Champion laid on by Inglis, and Reynolds converted then added a penalty goal shortly after to make it 12-6 to South Sydney.
But a Jamie Buhrer line break later in the half, beating Dylan Walker one on one, sent Cherry-Evans away to score under the posts and level the scores.
Manly then had to absorb some incredible pressure and went on the attack against the run of play after a poor pass from Sam Burgess allowed David Williams to run 40 metres after accepting an intercept. When Dave Tyrrell was penalised for holding down in the tackle shortly after, Lyon was able to slot what would be the match-winning penalty shot.
Sea Eagles 14 (Blair, Cherry-Evans tries; Lyon goal, 2 penalty goals) def Rabbitohs 12 (Burgess, Champion tries; Reynolds goal, penalty goal) at Central Coast Stadium.