The Eels v Broncos match-up was crucial to the final order of the NRL Top 8. The win by the Eels keeps Brisbane in 8th spot and resigns them to a graveyard match-up with the Melbourne Storm in a re-match of last years NRL Grand Final next week. The win locks the Eels into 5th spot and the chance of a ‘life-line’ should they lose in week 1 of the finals.
After a few weeks of indifferent form, the Eels couldn’t have chosen a better time to hit their straps – their halfback Tim Smith responding to critics and having a large hand in the win for the Eels. After being down 16-6 early on, the Eels rallied as Brisbane suffered injuries to key players Justin Hodges, Tonie Carroll and Dave Taylor.
When the dust settled the Eels had scored 68 points to the Broncos 22. A record score against the proud Brisbane club, their highest ever defeat in their 22 years in the Rugby League game.
The confidence of the Eels outside backs returned today, Jarryd Hayne in particular looking much more active and potent with the ball in his hands. Seemingly following his lead, Timana Tahu and Kris Inu joined in the parade as most of the Eels attacking raids came down their left flank.
The injury ravaged Broncos will now have to deal with mental scars from todays game as they try and regroup for the face-off with Melbourne this weekend. The Broncos will surely rush Karmichael Hunt back into the side next week to cover for injuries, Justin Hodges only suffered a cork and you would think he’ll be fine for next week; however Dave Taylor and Tonie Carroll could be long term casualties after showering early in todays loss.
Over at Brookvale Oval, Manly raced away to a big lead but then amazingly clocked off – the St George Illawarra Dragons nearly stealing a last minute win in a game of two halves. Manly coach Des Hasler would be extremely frustrated with his players ‘zoning out’ and letting things slip as they played in front of a full house at Brookvale.
After consecutive losses the Sea Eagles desperately needed a win heading into next week’s finals, and today’s result will deliver only some confidence to Manly moving into the finals. Admittedly they were without Menzies and Hicks – but at home against the lowly ranked Dragons – much more was expected.
But the second half fade out could come at a major price with Australia prop Brent Kite limping off the field and straight into the sheds with a groin injury in the 45th minute. Combined with other niggling injuries for Manly, the Bunnies will certainly carry some hope against them at fortress Brooky when they face off next weekend.
Admittedly the Dragons continued their form rise this week. After beating the fancied Eels on Monday night, the Dragons looked dangerous yet again when Mark Gasnier or Matt Cooper touched the ball – proving a problem for the usually stout Manly line.
As they have done all year, Manly simply know how to win. They may do it ugly at times, but they are a committed side defensively and are rarely headed in the final stages of close games. An attitude and style that suits NRL finals football to perfection.
NRL Top 8 for 2007:
Manly Sea Eagles
North Queensland Cowboys
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Stay tuned to NRL News tomorrow for a full review of the Melbourne Storm v Gold Coast Titans match and a complete wrap-up and discussion of the Round 25 outcome and the view ahead to next weeks finals.