Sea Eagles v Storm: Five key points
The keys to another thrilling contest between modern NRL rivals Manly and Melbourne.
DCE repays support with masterclass
By any measure it's been a big couple of weeks for under-siege Manly playmaker Daly Cherry-Evans. Under intense scrutiny and no small amount of speculation he finally declared his future lay on the Gold Coast, not Sydney's northern beaches, and broke the news to his teammates in the sheds after last week's loss. It must have been an agonising decision and one that deserves sympathy rather than scorn, but there were still fears some among the Brookvale faithful may boo their soon-to-be-ex star. Those fears were mislaid; the crowd gave him a rousing cheer when his name was read out pre-game and the man himself put any pressure to one side to turn in a vintage masterclass, exploding after a quietish start to help lay on three tries in a powerful eight-minute burst late in the first half that broke the game open. The Titans have themselves a good'un for next year.
Feleti Mateo's vintage offload
With star five-eighth Kieran Foran ruled out for at least a couple of weeks it seemed a no-brainer than Geoff Toovey would name last year's stand-out fill-in Jack Littlejohn to again fill the breach. But Toovey pulled a swifty on game day; with Jamie Buhrer back from his ACL injury Toovey moved ex-Warriors back-rower and part-time five-eighth Mateo into the halves. Mateo had a good all-round game and popped a match-high four offloads but it was his 10th-minute offload to Buhrer that set up Steve Matai for the game's first try that highlighted exactly the game-breaking potential he possesses.
Brett Stewart... Prince or King?
They call him the 'Prince of Brookvale'. "They" being the media – his teammates just call him Snake. But it may be time to upgrade 'prince' to 'king' because the freakish fullback's two-try effort in a vintage display of support play took him past local legend Steve Menzies to now be the outright owner of the 'most tries for Manly at Brookvale' record. He now has 79 tries in 86 NRL games at the venue, his try-scoring double within seven minutes late in the half – both courtesy of classy work from Cherry-Evans – taking him past Menzies. It's an amazing record by anyone's standard.
A textbook 12-point turnaround
After losing the arm-wrestle early Melbourne fought back to level pegging at 6-all. And when Storm winger Young Tonumaipea grounded a loose ball in the Manly in-goal after neither he nor defender Cheyse Blair could latch on to Cooper Cronk's bomb, it looked like the Storm had hit the lead. However the on-field officials ruled Tonumaipea had knocked on in the contest, while replays suggested it may have just been Blair's arm on the ball. Either way, it was close, and Manly raced downfield to score in the next set on the back of some Cherry-Evans brilliance, adding two more tries in short measure, and from almost being 12-6 up the Storm were suddenly 24-6 down in a passage that Craig Bellamy said certainly cost them the game after fighting back to 24-22 by full time.
Asked repeatedly by reporters what he thought of the call, Bellamy simply said "I'm not allowed to comment" – but was furious at his side's execution in that period. "Frustrating... We basically threw it away in the last 10 minutes of that first half," he said. "That lost us the game."
Storm skipper Cameron Smith lamented: "We were all aware of what they were going to throw at us but they still managed to open us up. You give a side like Manly so many points head start, then to almost peg them back, it's frustrating."
Storm wingers busy, Manly flanks suspect
When the Eels found it so easy to get around Manly last week you could blame the early injury to centre Clint Gutherson and the makeshift three-quarter line.
Not so on Saturday night, with Steve Matai back and a virtual full-strength back five (winger Jorge Taufua is the only absentee from a first-choice backline). Still, Storm wingers Marika Koroibete and Young Tonumaipea combined for 398 running metres, seven tackle busts, two line breaks and one try – though it so easily could have been much more.
They were the two making easy metres in the Storm comeback, which is a slight concern for Toovey, but in one sense it's not surprising: in a dour match in Round 1 the pair combined for 405 metres against the Dragons, and they did that with no line breaks at all. No other wing pairing, at this early stage, is making anything like that much yardage. Next best in Round 1 and also next best so far in Round 2 is Penrith, despite the absence of busy tackle-buster Josh Mansour. Whoever's playing the Storm in Round 3 (hint: the Sharks travel to AAMI Park) will really need to work out a way to keep these two powerful flankers quiet.