Manly belt hapless Dragons
Dumped NSW centre Dylan Walker has responded to his Origin axing in the best possible fashion, scoring two tries in a fine performance to help his team earn just their second home win of 2016 and first win since Round 7.
Walker was on fire in the first half while Blues development players Jake and Tom Trbojevic were also outstanding and back-rower Jamie Buhrer had his best game of the season to be the best player on the field.
Walker earned a comfortable points decision over the man that took his NSW right-centre spot, Josh Dugan, most notably when he latched onto a Dugan cut-out pass to streak away for an 80-metre intercept try to ice a dominant first half effort.
The 36-6 result is a horrible one for a Dragons side that had just started to find a bit of form and for who there was a top-eight berth in the offing had they won.
The Red V came up with an avalanche of first half errors and poor options as Manly ran amok with the Dragons barely able to get out of their own end.
A frantic end-to-end start to the game – in which a Euan Aitken line break probably should have led to the same player scoring in just the second minute a few plays later – was as good as things got for the visitors.
First points eventually came via a Jamie Lyon penalty goal in the eighth minute before things started to go properly wrong for the Dragons.
A Mitch Rein drop coming out of territory handed Manly a chance and a powerful charge by Jake Trbojevic was only denied points by a Dugan hand under the ball. Having held on in this instance a Widdop dropped ball at dummy half on their own line seconds later handed Manly another full set, but more good defence denied Jorge Taufua in the corner.
Having survived a tense opening examination, the Dragons got another one around the 20-minute mark when dumped Origin centre Dylan Walker used his speed and offload to create a long-range break which was quickly followed by a penalty but an impatient Manly side eventually lost possession through a high-risk Martin Taupau offload to Walker and the Red V hung on again.
The pressure had to tell eventually and from there the floodgates opened with four Manly tries in 15 minutes.
First Api Koroisau's grubber to the in-goal was chased by Nathan Green just two minutes after the previous let-off. Although there was a question mark over the back-rower's grounding the bunker found insufficient evidence to overturn the live ruling of try and Manly earned an 8-0 lead.
Josh Dugan's pass into touch shortly after gave Manly a chance to go back-to-back and they duly took it when a pair of great passes from Cherry-Evans and Lyon sent Walker over for a 12-0 lead inside half an hour.
The Dragons continued to be unable to get out of their own end; when it wasn't an error their sets were capped by poor kicks and when Widdop lost it in a big tackle Manly launched another siege at the Red V's line and this time it was a stunning, lightning-quick catch-and-pass from stand in fullback and new NSW development player Tom Trbojevic that sent Jorge Taufua over in the left corner for a 16-0 lead.
With a very, very rare attacking set a few minutes from half-time and a chance to go in just two tries behind another wayward Dugan pass again led to trouble for the visitors. This time Walker spotted the cut-out pass a mile away and raced out of his line to snatch the ball and streak 80 metres for his second. Tyson Frizell's length-of-the-field chase – reminiscent of his Origin II chase on Dane Gagai – was valiant but in vain from the instant the former Rabbitohs speedster hit open pastures.
Half-time came too late for the Dragons and when it hit the numbers were damning; Manly had 66 per cent of the first half ball and offloaded 16 times to St George Illawarra's one. They made almost 500 more running metres over the opening 40 and completed at 80 per cent to the Dragons' 60 per cent due to their seven handling errors (versus four for the home side).
The second half saw the Dragons produce some improved handling and even force a repeat set but they were still unable to crack the Manly line and instead it was the home side who pulled further ahead off the back of another Dragons error when Jamie Buhrer's cross-field bomb was allowed to bounce and Green batted it back for an unmarked Taufua to bag his second
Buhrer did it all himself in the 67th minute, showing some footwork to split the Dragons line inside his own half and run 70 metres to score, just outlasting Benji Marshall's chase.
The visitors ignored the ignominy of a defeat to zero when Widdop's inside pass put Dugan over for a consolation try before a Cherry-Evans floating cutout to Brayden Wiliame a minute from time sealed a 36-6 final margin.
Manly Sea Eagles 36 (Walker 2, Taufua 2, Green, Buhrer, Wiliame tries; Lyon 4 goals) defeated St George Illawarra Dragons 6 (Dugan try; Widdop goal) at Brookvale Oval. Half time: Manly 22-0. Crowd: 9,048.