Manly have defended their way to a 22-12 victory against a spirited, but clumsy New Zealand Warriors side on Sunday afternoon.
Warriors' execution missing without Johnson
Our defence was of the highest quality: Toovey
Missed opportunities cost Warriors
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With star halfback Shaun Johnson and impact utility Feleti Mateo ruled out due to injury just prior to kick off, the Warriors looked completely lost on last-tackle plays as they fell to back-to-back losses for the first time since round 7.
Asked to assume the primary playmaking role in Johnson’s absence, five-eighth Chad Townsend produced a number of poor kicking options late in tackle counts, repeatedly booting dead and handing Manly easy starts to their attacking sets.
Since Johnson made his debut back in 2011 the Warriors haven’t won a game without him in their side, and his class was sorely missed.
The Sea Eagles themselves were far from perfect, missing 28 tackles and conceding eight penalties throughout the 80 minutes.
But Geoff Toovey’s men were able to defend their line when it counted, and in the end squeezed the life out of their opponents at a chilly Mount Smart Stadium.
The enthusiasm of Konrad Hurrell had set the tone for the Warriors in the opening exchanges, scoring inside two minutes.
An Anthony Watmough error coming out of his own half handed the Warriors field possession, and an early ball to Hurrell gave him enough space in front of a retreating defence to score in the corner.
Despite dominating possession and riding a penalty count which was 5-2 in their favour, errors inside the attacking 20 and a heavy-footed kicking game Townsend stopped the Warriors from furthering their advantage and instead handed momentum over to the visitors.
First Cheyse Blair, a late call-up in the place of Jorge Taufua, finished athletically on the left wing, before former Junior Warrior Peta Hiku did the same on the opposite side to put Manly up 10-6.
Only a desperate ankle-tap from Daly Cherry-Evans prevented Manu Vatuvei from scoring an intercept try in the final minute of the half.
The home side got over the tryline twice within the opening 10 minutes of the second period, but a relentless Manly defence meant the scoreboard attendant didn’t move.
First the on-field officials ruled a forward pass on a Ben Henry effort, before the men upstairs ruled Vatuvei had been held up in goal.
But as they have done on so many occasions throughout the year, Manly held strong, repelling sustained periods of pressure to eventually get the break they wanted.
Targeting the Warriors’ left-edge, the Sea Eagles were working over veteran centre Dane Nielsen at every available opportunity, and made it count with 15 minutes remaining.
Brett Stewart created space and found Hiku for his second of the day, which captain Jamie Lyon converted to extend the lead to 16-6 and take the air out of the 19,199 in attendance.
Tries to Cherry-Evans and Simon Mannering in the final 10 minutes did nothing to alter the result in the end, with Manly running out 22-12 winners in a display which showed just why they lead the competition.
Sea Eagles 22 (Hiku 2, Blair Cherry-Evans tries; Lyon 3 goals) defeated Warriors 12 (Hurrell, Mannering tries; Townsend 2 goals). Crowd: 19,199