It was a case of Manly beating the Eels on one leg. An already understrength Sea Eagles side entered the game without Matt Orford and Mark Bryant, but were soon worse off after serious injuries to Jamie Lyon and Josh King. But in the end it didn’t matter, the makeshift Sea Eagles gave the Eels a lesson in desire first and foremost, then threw in some sublime attack to boot. Manly running out winners 28-10.
After the match, under-fire Parramatta coach Michael Hagan refused to admit his teams finals chances have all but gone, despite Parramatta slumping to 3 losses on the trot.
Des Hasler while obviously concerned about his side injuries at present, must surely be happy with the way his side rallied and performed despite personnel setbacks. The Sea Eagles look super fit and prided themselves on solid defence, even when the result was well beyond doubt for the home side. For Manly, usual suspects Brett Stewart and Anthony Watmough were big performers at home – Stewart pulling off the no-look behind the back pass of the year to ice the Eels in the death.
The big improver for the Sea Eagles seems to be upcoming hooker Matt Ballin. The fit and crafty no. 9 was a handful all night and probed well to get his side an important early try from close to the line. Ballin interchanges well with Heath L’estrange and Hasler has a ready made match winning combination right there.
On the flip side Sea Eagles fan must have their heart in their mouths when they watch Steve Matai. A physical force, Matai was damaging in both attack and defence, but his eagerness to flee the defence line early puts his team at risk each week. The Kiwi firebrand kept a clean sheet tonight and was impressive along with his veteran partner Steve Bell.
One person from the Eels camp who will be quietly happy, will be Luke Burt. The consistent fullback was extremely hard-done by and should never have been dropped and should almost certainly be reinstated to the side for the upcoming Round 20 clash with the North Queensland Cowboys. While Hayne toiled hard at fullback, his support play is unlike Burts and regardless, the Eels forwards rarely achieved enough forward roll to give their second phase a chance.
Desperate for a confidence boosting win, the Eels were given the best chance but failed to capitalise on a clear opportunity for an upset after Manly lost halfback Matt Orford (thigh) before kickoff and five-eighth Jamie Lyon (knee) and Jason King (ankle) early in the first half at Brookvale Oval.
The signs looked good for Parramatta when they led 6-0 but they failed to stop the in-form Sea Eagles, who ran out convincing 28-10 winners.
The loss now leaves the Eels in serious danger of losing touch with the top eight.
If Penrith beat the Gold Coast tomorrow night, it would leave Parramatta three points outside the top eight with only seven rounds remaining.
“I thought tonight was a very important game for our end of season chances, in terms of how we played and also in terms of hopefully coming up with an upset so you can still be in the hunt after this weekend,” Hagan said after the loss.
“But we said (we needed to win) 5 from 8 last week (to make the finals) so it’s 5 from 7 from now on in, so the maths and the equation hasn’t changed to much.
“I don’t think we’re too far away from sorting it out … But we know we’ve got seven pretty tough games to follow and we’re going to have to win five of those to be thereabouts.
“Nothing’s changed too much from that point of view.
Hagan admitted the Eels let an opportunity slip tonight.
“I think certainly the game was there to be won if our goal line D and our execution was as good as it could have been but you can’t be 70-80 per cent against Manly,” Hagan said.
“You’ve got to be at your best and I thought without Orford and when Lyon went off we were a genuine hope.”
The Eels will be hoping to get their campaign back on track when they host the last-placed Cowboys at Parramatta Stadium next Friday.