Manly 30 def Souths 6
In took Manly an age to finally open the Souths flood gates, but it was a comprehensive win by the no.2 team in the NRL – the Sea Eagles proving themselves in a finals atmosphere and earning a week off, followed by a home ‘regional’ final in week 3.
The first half saw a nervous Souths fighting hard just to hold the Eagles out. Despite some early discipline problems – the Eagles eventually found their feet and mounted some good pressure on the Souths line. Wave after wave was coming the Bunnies way, on several occasions Manly had tries disallowed due to desperate Souths defence and referee interference at one stage.
Manly showed much superior ruck wrestling tonight, getting numbers into tackles and pinning the Souths ball runners for long periods on the ground. While it cost them penalties, the gamble proved well worth it – the Manly side looking much like Melbourne as they rocked, rolled and suspended Souths in mid air to really slow their play the balls.
The Eagles continue to look so dangerous when they get numbers around the play ball in attack. Deep in enemy territory, the Eagles regulary have 2 or 3 speed men run angles around the dummy half – putting plenty of doubt in their oppositions minds as the likes of Brett Stewart, Chris Hicks and Co give the Eagles plenty of attacking options from 10m out.
While the Eagles were polished, Souths gritty work ethic continued to turn them away continually. Going into half time at 6-2, Souths would have been happy with the closeness of the score considering Manly had most of the possession and all the field postion for period 1.
The arm wrestle continued in the second period, Souths niggling away and finally getting a quality attacking kick in play, a flying Paul Mellor scoring an impressive try in the corner and Souths locking the scores up at 6 all.
It was game on from here, Manly getting a little edgy and Souths naturally lifting after their touchdown.
The Manly forwards put their hand up in the next little period of the match. Jason King having a top game, stepping up several times to stop Souths getting any momentum rolls. King took on the likes of Asotasi and Cusack – driving the Bunnies big men back a few times and keeping the engine room in check for the locals.
The Eagles obviously spent time focusing on Souths Issac Luke, the live wire hooker being contained well all night by Manly, preventing any attacking spark from dummy half for the Bunnies.
When Manly pierced the Souths line on 51m – the spinning and driving Watmough scoring beside the posts things looked ominous for the Rabbitohs. However, some positive sets following the Manly try saw Souths get right back into the action and push for an equalizer.
At the 60 minute mark a crucial intervention call by the video referee totally changed the face of the game. With Souths enjoying some possession and a nice build up of momentum – a collision between Manly kicker Matt Orford and Souths’ Ben Rogers, saw the Manly halfback injured from the heavy impact.
Replays suggesting Bunny Ben Rogers merely stood his ground, the flying Orford unluckily colliding heavily with Rogers as the Bunny had his back turned. For the second time in 2 nights – commentators and viewers were stunned, as the video referee got involved to award a penalty to Manly. As the Eagles halfback remained on the ground for a long period of time, the tough penalty call and long stop in play proved to be the straw that broke the back of South Sydney. While on-field referees are only human and may make mistakes, it continues to amaze NRL followers that video officials can continue to get things so wrong. These guys have the benefit of ‘replays’ meaning an error should be extremely rare or non existent, in real time the Orford / Rogers collision was purely accidental contact – nothing more, nothing less.
It was the perfect tonic for Manly, they regained composure and took the gift penalty with both hands – scoring soon after through and putting an end to the South Sydney fairytale in 2007. Once the Eagles got ahead, their class shone through. The shackles seemingly lifted off and the previously grinding game now changing into the free flowing style that Manly love.
Brett Stewart amazingly seems to improve every week, his blinding speed was combined with fearless running tonight – scoring a superb try late, running off an inside pass from Steve Bell about 10m out – the flying fullback broke the heart of Souths as he tore through 3 tacklers to score in the corner.
The final spurt from Manly, scoring several tries towards the end of the game was an impressive finish for the locals. They ended the game on the best possible note and gave themselves plenty of confidence to walk away with. In all reality, the Eagles are the only team that look likely to trouble the might of Melbourne this year. Coach Des Hasler admitting how happy he was with the Eagles finish compared to previous weeks, his side finally putting an opposition to the sword when it counted – not just winning, but winning well.
The only concern for Manly tonight was more injuries. Chris Hicks damaging his ankle and carried from the field, as did Glenn Stewart – the backrower also having ankle problems. The other concern will be Steve Matai; probably the only weak link in the Manly line – Matai again raced out of the line several times tonight, forcing his team mates to cover for him as Souths broke through his vacant area in the line. The Bunnies should have targetted the Matai edge more, as everywhere else Manly were bulletproof as they held tight tonight.
The week off will help the Eagles mend their injury men, the Manly side earning the right to a ‘regional’ home final in Week 3 – most likely the SFS or Telstra Stadium.
For Souths, while its the end of the road – no doubt the rebuilt Rabbitohs are a successful outfit and will be a force for the next few years. Competition for first grade spots, quality players and staff and top facilities now allow the Bunnies equal or advantageous footing in the NRL world. We’ll be seeing plenty more of them in the years ahead.