Conditions were cold but dry at Olympic Stadium for the Grand Final rematch. The offer of expansive Rugby League available to both teams with such solid footing at the usually slippery Melbourne Stadium.
After a few minutes of play it was only the Melbourne Storm playing expansive football and virtually the only team to see any football as Manly were totally starved of any ball. The Sea Eagles started very nervously in much the same way they started the 2007 NRL Grand Final.
Manly halfback Matt Orford continuing to give credit to the talk he isn’t a big game player, the usually sound no. 7 was dropping plenty of ball and putting plenty of pressure on his side.
The Melbourne Storm didn’t need much of an invitation, they looked as sharp as they have in 12 months. Rolling ahead with good speed from the ruck, they were simply too dynamic for a quickly tiring Manly, the Sea Eagles unable to stop the juggernaut. Every attempt to slow the play the ball saw penalties blown by Tony ‘Have a Chat’ Archer.
Will even more possession thrown their way, the Storm blew open the Manly flood gates. Billy Slater touching down early after a failed set play involving the Storms left edge attack. When the raid failed and the team was flat footed, Slater simply threw it into gear and accelerated from 10m out to run down a vacant channel of defenders.
The Storm were in only minutes later, big Greg Inglis scoring off a similar play – Melbourne sending more traffic at Manly’s right edge defence and Inglis threw out a big don’t argue fend, belting Brett Stewart out of the way and literally knocking the fullback completely into the air to score a opportunist try. At 10-0, all Manly could hope for was that Cam Smith kept missing the conversions.
The whole Manly team were blowing, totally run off their feet they did well to keep scrambling.
In the 29m minute, a length of the field Melbourne attacking raid was finished a tackle later after Billy Slater took a speculator off-load from Michael Croker to score in minimal space on the right edge of Manly’s line. Slater getting the risky offload and throwing a dummy to confuse Michael Roberston from 5m out to sprint in and score another try. Cameron Smith missing the kick, making the score 14-0 to the Storm.
Possession evened out slightly towards the end of the half and while Manly have only had 3 real attacking sets on the Storms line, they didn’t look like breaking the Melbourne line and probably needed a try to boost confidence.
In the second half it seemed like more of the same, a big strong Melbourne Storm executing to perfection and scoring very early on through a slick backline movement that saw Anthony Quinn score in the furtherest left hand corner of the field.
Manly were given a few chances in the period after this, but they either turned the ball over cheaply or looked devoid of ideas. Matt Orford continuing his horror night and kicking poorly and giving away silly penalties. Orford committing cardinal sins, failing to find touch on one occasion and just dropping the pill on every second touch.
The big chance for the Sea Eagles came before the 60minute when Steve Bell was the finisher from a good backline movement, Bell getting over the line and ruled to be held up by Greg Inglis. A close call, the video referee getting it wrong again and calling no-try. There was absolutely no evidence to rule no try, at worst it was a benefit of the doubt. Once again, it is mind boggling to see that video referees cannot get it right or follow the guidelines to awarding tries.
The incorrect ruling killed off any chances Manly may have had, the Melbourne Storm immediately going back on the attack and probing the Sea Eagles line. Melbourne could have easily scored soon after, with a movement setting up Crocker with 2 support players – but big Michael took the odds and bombed a try. The second rower hogging the ball and running at Brett Stewart, with the fullback bringing him down.
Manly hearts stopped beating soon after this period, as prominent back rower Anthony Watmough had his knee caught up and turned complete the wrong way – the footage looking horrible, the man they call ‘Choc’ trying to stay on the field – but eventually having to call it quits.
With Watmough and Jamie Lyon both sidelined with injury, it looked ominous for Manly. The Sea Eagles have had something like 32 tackles in the Melbourne Storm half, but have only looked like scoring once. Michael Monaghan syndrome is certainly striking again, their previous wins against poor opposition really giving them false hope before tonight.
The Storm machine were all impressive, the highlight reel being starred in by the likes of Billy Slater who was electric in attack, Cooper Cronk who has been holding the ball up and throwing superb double pump passes all night and the physically dominating Israel Folau on the fringe. The Storm forward pack all deserve honourable mentions, each and everyone of them piercing the line regularly and making things easy for the likes of Cronk, Inglis and Co.
How will Manly cop this defeat? It’s Groundhog day for the Grand Final losers and they might have another hangover after this loss. The only shining light was a solid Michael Bani who when we touched the ball looked good, even the elusive Brett Stewart got few if any chances to weave some magic.
With minutes to go, a lazy Michael Croker forward pass gave the Sea Eagles one last chance to grab a try. With some fast passing to the flanks, Manly were able to scoot over through Michael Bani. Amazingly, Storm forward Ryan Hoffman knocked the ball out over the line in a superb cover tackle – only for video referee Bill Harrigan to again rule incorrectly and say that Bani had regathered and scored a try.
Maybe this was a ‘make-up’ call for Manly after the failed Steve Bell try – but to be put bluntly the video referee has made two absolute howler calls in tonights game that has left most viewers stumped. We haven’t had too much focus on video officials this year, but after tonight – we absolutely need some rule changes in this area. How an official can get things so wrong is mind boggling. Maybe it’s the ‘grey area’ of the rules, but either way – something needs to be done.
Manly eventually getting on the board after near 40 tackles in their opponents zone, a sad attacking effort and overall they have been sent home with their tails between their legs. There would be no doubt Billy Slater has won the battle over opposite Brett Stewart with Slater getting the man of the match award on the back of 2 tries and 3 linebreaks the popular fullback now getting man of the match two weeks straight. It will be interesting to see how the Sea Eagles respond to the loss – facing old enemy Parramatta next week in what should be a cracker.