Jennings double sinks Sea Eagles
Parramatta have taken a share of the competition lead after another huge defensive effort helped them down a very impressive and willing – and injury-hit – Sea Eagles outfit at Brookvale Oval on Thursday night.
A few late tries to the Eels blew out the final score and belied the closeness of the contest, which had Manly on top for large stretches of the game and clinging to a two-point lead for most of the second half.
A stack of disallowed tries to the Eels looked to have them frustrated after soaking up a mountain of Manly attack at their line early in the second half (reminiscent of a similar spell against Canberra last week) while trailling by two – but they held on and claimed the lead in the 70th minute through 200-gamer Michael Jennings, who added a second shortly after as the score-line blew out.
Manly lost hooker Matt Parcell (hamstring) and prop Brenton Lawrence (hip) before kick-off, forcing a reshuffle with Lewis Brown sharing hooking duties with Blake Leary and bullocking youngster Addin Fonua-Blake earning his NRL debut.
Five-eighth Dylan Walker continues to grow into his new role and produced a series of challenging kicks to create headaches for the blue and golds while Brown looked at home at dummy half.
While the Eels' fifth win takes them to equal first (at least until the Broncos host the Knights on Saturday), coach Brad Arthur will be sweating on the fitness of Tepai Moeroa (shin, 30th minute) and Junior Paulo (concussion, 71st minute) who both failed to finish the match. For Sea Eagles mentor Trent Barrett, a possible fractured collarbone to Jorge Taufua in the 61st minute will test his backs depth further.
After a hugely spirited and high quality first half the teams couldn't be separated at the break, taking a converted try and penalty goal apiece to the sheds – though each had their share of disallowed chances.
Parramatta's well-oiled defence got an early work-out after Clint Gutherson put down a bomb but the Eels withstood the early pressure. They looked to have cracked at the next time of asking with prolific Manly fullback Brett Stewart racing through on a brilliant, screwing Walker kick but he fumbled the grounding.
Michael Gordon's boot instead earned the Eels first points in the 12th minute when Apisai Koroisau was penalised for a hand in the ruck and Parramatta opted for the two points.
Manly got their try shortly after though when some instinctive dummy-half play from Brown led to a short-side play and Stewart's smart tap-on allowed Tom Trbojevic to draw and pass to put Jamie Lyon over in the 16th minute. The Manly skipper added a penalty goal shortly after for an 8-2 lead.
The opening half hour had seen an even share of possession but almost all the ball in the Eels' half with very few chances, and it looked to be Manly well on top.
Fresh legs in the form of Peni Terepo, Danny Wicks and Kenny Edwards re-energised the blue-and-golds and the final 10 minutes of the half opened right up with a couple of line breaks to each side. Semi Radradra palmed off Trbojevic down the Eels left edge before 'Turbo' returned serve off a loose ball only to be rounded up at the end of an 80-metre run by Beau Scott coming across in cover.
One of the Eels' breaks saw Norman denied a try for an obstruction when Radradra ran behind Norman in the lead-up while Michael Jennings was also denied by the bunker because Tom Symonds knocked the ball from his grasp as he went to ground it.
After a series of raids Parramatta got the equaliser against a scattered Manly defence in the 33rd minute when Walker couldn't handle Norman's cross-field kick and Brad Takairangi cleaned up the scraps.
The second half saw both sides being to be worn down by the physicality of the contest and another disallowed try to the Eels, this time for a marginal offside call against Brad Takairangi chasing a Norman grubber.
A stripping penalty in the 49th minute saw the Eels spend the next five minutes and three sets camped on their try-line, courtesy of two goal-line drop outs, but they were relieved when Manly finally opted to take two points on the back of another stripping infringement.
Manly had a leveller disallowed when it was found Darcy Lussick failed to ground Stewart's grubber and an ill-advised short chip from Blake Leary shortly after set the scene for the Eels.
A Corey Norman cross-field kick was regathered and tossed around before Jennings swept on Isaac De Gois's grubber to score in his 200th game and reclaim the lead 10 minutes from time.
The Origin centre bagged his double shortly after when Stewart wasn't able to clean up Norman's kick to the corner before Radradra finally got his first try since Round 3 – his 10th in six games against Manly – when a brilliant stop-and-go in the 77th minute flummoxed the defence to ice another impressive win for Arthur's men, their fifth in their first seven games of the season.
Parramatta Eels 22 (Jennings 2; Takairangi, Radradra tries; Gordon 3 goals) def Manly Sea Eagles 10 (Lyon try; Lyon 3 goals) at Brookvale Oval. Half-time: 8-all. Crowd: 14,633.