The Prince lights up Brookvale epic
A sublime all-round performance from Manly fullback Brett Stewart proved the difference as Manly beat the Roosters 24-16 in a pulsating, finals-level encounter in front of 17,155 fans at Brookvale Oval on Friday night.
For the second time in 2014 the 2013 Grand Finalists fought out a tight clash that had more than hint of finals about it, and again the margin was eight points to Manly, who were downed four times in four starts last year by the eventual 2013 premiers.
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Aside from one dropped ball that lead to a Roosters try, Stewart was in absolutely sublime touch. The Prince of Brookvale produced four or five separate match-winning plays – one a try-saving tackle, one a try, one kick from dummy half early in the tackle count to earn his side some field position when they desperately needed it, and one tackle to force a drop out with his side clinging to a tight lead late in the match.
It meant that after being all locked up at half time, his side were able to outscore their opponents two tries to one in the second half in a match of high quality and intensity that just never let up.
Stewart scored the key try of the second half when five-eight Kieran Foran gambled on a short ball switch back on the last play where Stewart was in perfect position to race onto it and score next to the posts.
A clean break from Roosters winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck should have led to points shortly thereafter before a great read from Stewart shut down the play, with more end to end footy following but bringing no further points until the 68th minute.
A strong charge from Sonny Bill Williams got Manly rolling backwards before Frank-Paul Nuuausala ran straight through the line and found Pearce in support, who had enough pace to get away from Stewart. However Maloney missed the tricky conversion that he'd usually back himself to get leaving the Roosters still down by two points.
A few uncharacteristic errors from the Roosters meant they struggled to build pressure the way they had earlier in the half and with time running out Manly were able to use the clock to their advantage.
A dropped ball from Shaun Kenny-Dowall around four minutes from full-time extinguished the visitors' best chance of the final stanza before a brilliant tackle from Stewart, chasing through a Foran grubber, crunched Roosters fullback Anthony Minichiello back into the in-goal to effectively end the Roosters' chances of a late miracle.
When Manly collected the short drop out Jamie Lyon was able to put winger Peta Hiku over for his second to put an exclamation point on a strong win for the home side, which keeps them atop the NRL ladder.
Earlier, the sides couldn't be split in a high-quality first half that finished 12-all as Manly opened stronger before the Roosters hit back.
The visitors were their own worst enemies early, repeatedly piggy-backing the home side out of their own end with a series of ruck penalties, and it was after Manly received their fourth penalty in the first 12 minutes that a classy right-side shift saw winger Peta Hiku cross for the first of the night.
When Cherry-Evans spread it right to Lyon, the Manly skipper did well to draw two defenders and throw a quality ball to put Hiku in space, the Kiwi representative running around to improve the position and help his skipper make it 6-0.
Yet another penalty to Manly in the set straight after the try earned them another chance and this time it was on the left that they split the Tricolours, with a sublime no-look catch and pass from Stewart helping Matai draw his opposing winger and put Jorge Taufua over untouched.
With the Roosters finally getting the message about cleaning up the ruck they started to enjoy some quality field position and began to win the armwrestle in the middle. When Taufua produced his side's first error with more than a quarter of the match gone some of the Roosters big names made them pay.
When Pearce moved it right to Williams, the rugby-bound back-rower laid on a perfect short ball to send Shaun Kenny-Dowall on a short run at the line, pushing past Stewart to get his side back within four.
And when Manly's in-form custodian produced an out-of-character drop from a regulation Pearce bomb, the visitors hit the lead.
Kangaroos second rower Boyd Cordner, only fresh on the field in his comeback from a six-week syndesmosis injury, burst onto a Pearce short ball next to the posts and dived over virtually untouched.
The frantic remainder of the half saw Manly forward James Hasson leave the field after getting his head in an awkward position in a tackle on Dylan Napa, Manly premiership-winner Heath L'Estrange enter the field for the first time in 2014, a clean line break to Stewart with his side under pressure, and a Cherry-Evans 40/20 with around a minute remaining in the half.
That lead to the final scoring play of the half as Lyon opted to take a shot at goal from a penalty with around 20 seconds left to ensure the sides left the field locked at 12 apiece.
Manly Sea Eagles 24 (Hiku 2, Taufua, Stewart tries; Lyon 4 goals) def. Sydney Roosters 16 (Kenny-Dowall, Cordner, Pearce tries, Maloney 2 goals). Crowd: 17,155.