Sea Eagles v Dragons: Five key points
Round 17 finished with Manly grabbing a huge, morale-boosting win over a dreadful Dragons outfit at Brookvale Oval on Monday night. Here are five talking points from the 36-6 win.
Manly find the recipe and reward long-suffering fans
Such was the dominance of Manly's win it's hard to think this is a side that hasn't sung the team song since Round 7 - and hasn't done so at home since Round 3.
An avalanche of injuries amid players still forming new combinations while being shuffled between positions on a weekly basis to cover fresh injury-enforced changes has made life tough but with something vaguely resembling their best available 17 on the park for the second week running Manly started to click last week against the Cowboys and fired up on Monday night.
"We probably turned the corner a bit last week I thought against North Queensland. Being able to put a similar side on the park for consecutive weeks was beneficial to us but I'm just really proud of them," coach Trent Barrett said after the game.
"The result was always going to come on the back of how hard they worked. They stuck together and I thank them for that. They've been outstanding and they deserved it and I'm really happy for them.
A huge missed opportunity for the Dragons
While Manly's slim finals hopes have been sinking further into 'mathematical' territory for several weeks, St George Illawarra had a golden chance to couple a win here with two points from next week's bye and emerge from Round 19 sitting around sixth.
Instead they are currently outside the eight with the worst differential of any side other than last-placed Newcastle and coach Paul McGregor didn't try and hide his disappointment after the game.
"That was a four-point game. The situation where we could have been in sixth spot after the bye and now we're fighting again and we're equal eighth so it's not good enough," McGregor said.
"The importance of the game going into a bye and fixing ourselves into the eight, we spoke about it. Our practice has been really good. We just didn't get in the contest at all from the beginning.
"It's happened once before to us this year against the Warriors over there when they were missing four or five players. We had a good opportunity there to take the two points and put ourselves in the eight as well. We didn't do it that time either. So we're all disappointed at the moment."
Walker trumps Dugan in Origin revenge
Dylan Walker could afford a joke with Josh Dugan after the game after the Dragons custodian displaced Walker from the NSW team for Origin III – but Walker won a points decision against Dugan on Monday night. Aside from scoring two tries to Dugan's one and being on the right end of a 36-6 scoreline, Walker heaped more misery on the Dragons fullback when he intercepted a Dugan long ball to streak the length of the field and score.
Barrett praised the way Walker hit back from his earlier disappointment.
"I was surprised [he was dropped] to be honest, I didn't think he was the catalyst for NSW losing that game," Barrett said
"I think he had a bit of a point to prove and Dylan will be better for his experience of the two games in the Origin side. He's only young, 21 or 22 years old, a lot of football in front of him and he'll be better for it… He's a confident kid Dylan, that's not going to knock him around too much. He'll get there again and I think he'll really be in probably a better position to handle it."
Dragons lose the ruck and the ground game
The Red V were pinned inside their own end for virtually the entire first half. When they did manage to complete a set they were kicking from poor territory as a result of the vigorous Manly defence while when Manly had the ball, even if they got it near their own line they had no trouble rolling down the field.
"They had the run of the game pretty well from the start there and a lot of field position and turned field position into points and we made 125 more tackles than they did tonight," McGregor said.
"[That was] on the back of our poor 'D' (defence) and discipline so we deserved to make 125 more. We didn't control the footy. They were running 70 metres a set and we were running 30 metres a set."
The ruck contests were also a problem, he added.
"They won the ground on us a fair bit, the play the balls were quite slow and they held us up for long periods of time before we got the ball on the ground there so they were getting line speed on us," he said.
Lyon to stay at six, Stewart still the man at the back
Dylan Walker's strong form in the centres coupled with Jamie Lyon's no-fuss combination with Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves means the retiring skipper is likely to see out his final season at five-eighth allowing Walker to play in the centres.
But despite an ongoing knee injury to senior fullback Brett Stewart and youngster Tom Trbojevic's outstanding form at the back, Stewart is still the man for the No.1 slot whenever fit according to Barrett.
"Brett, probably by his own admission has been struggling with a bit of injury. I would have played him tonight had he been fully fit. He is a legend of this club and I think when Snake's 100 per cent he can do things on a football field that no one else can," Barett said.
"He deserves for us to show him the respect that he's earned. I hope Snake can overcome it – he's got a niggling knee injury at the moment and I hope he gets through it but when he's not there we've got Tom and Tom's a terrific player of the future and can play many positions. I'll cross that bridge when it comes... Brett Stewart's a terrific player and if he's fully fit he'll be in the side."