Cementing their place in history, the Sea Eagles have helped bring the World Cup Challenge trophy back to Australia for the first time in 5 years. Beating the odds, Manly dealt with the conditions well and their pre-season seems well underway as Brett Stewart and Anthony Watmough both bagged doubles to get their side out in front.
The impressive victory sounds alarm bells for other NRL teams back at home, with many struggling during the pre-season and still unsure of combinations and new faces. Manly look set to continue 2009 where they left off only a few short months ago.
The Leeds Rhinos, who were attempting to become the first team ever to hold the title back to back never really got going.”The scoreline didn’t truly indicate the way the game went,” said Manly coach Des Halser.
“I thought we were in control for most of the time out there. We came over here with a plan and the players fulfilled that.”
Even the Rhinos coach Brian McClennan confirmed the best side were victorious.
“We wanted to do well in the game and we had a chance to create some history but it wasn’t to be,” he said.
“Manly are a great outfit. They’re a very classy team and take a lot of sports science and conditioning into their set-up. You could see that.”
Leeds were given a big shot in the arm when English halfback Rob Burrow got through a fitness test on his back injury allowing him to play in the much anticipated clash.
The revival for Burrow was shortlived however, with Anthony Watmough flooring Burrow’s 10 minutes in with a high tackle.
The start of the match was scrappy, and it was NRL referee Jason Robinson who blew the pea out of the whistle for near the first quarter of the game, things finally exploding shortly after.
Big forwards Jamie Peacock and Josh Perry were both sent to the sin bin for a dust-up – as both sides fired up and put on a strong finish to the first half.
Receiving the penalty, Manly immediately shifted through the hands with Brett Stewart eventually darting over from short range and Matt Orford converting.
Only 10 minutes later, Manly were over the try line again.
Watmough bursting on to an Orford ball that was well held up by the Ox, leaving only the fullback Lee Smith to beat – which Watmough did with style.
Leading 12-0, Manly could have scored again near half time but failed to get over the line.
Watmough and Stewart again combining, but dropping the ball.
Leeds got a sniff right on the half time bell, making the most of an opportunity Manly gifted them.
Glenn Stewart unable to deal with a Kevin Sinfield kick, which saw McGuire held up over the try line by a desperate Orford tackle, but the ball was knocked free and Jamie Jones-Buchanan siezed on it to score for the Rhinos.
Referee Jason Robinson passed the decision to video man Steve Ganson, awarding it to the Rhinos on benefit of the doubt – Sinfield missing the conversion which allowed Manly a 12-4 lead at halftime.
The opening 10 minutes of the 2nd term were all Manly. The Sea Eagles burst out the sheds to score three tries in quickfire succession. Coach Des Hasler obviously giving them the ammo they needed to put the final nail in the Leeds coffin.
Brett Stewart was again in the action, forgetting his dropsy effort before half time to score off the end of a good Manly backline movement.
The next raid came through speedster Michael Robertson and finished with Choc Watmough barging over the line for his double.
New Manly forward Shane Rodney was subbed onto the field for his taste in Sea Eagles colours and didn’t disappoint. The former premiership winning Panther busting through tired Rhinos’Â defence, setting up Heath L’Estrange who positioned Steve Matai well in the corner
Former NZ Warriors and NRL star Ali Lauitiiti helped get his side going late in term 2 with some spirited play.Rhinos centre Senior scoring after the leadup work by Ali Lauitiiti getting the Leeds side back to 26-10 behind.
Lauitiiti was proving a handful for Manly, this time setting up Hall for another Leeds try in the far corner.
Manly had some breathing space when Orford kicked home a late penalty to get them to 28-16 with less than 5 minutes to go.
But it was the Rhinos who scored the last try through McGuire who was setup by Senior who raced down the touchline.
Manly getting their 2009 campaign off to a massive start and will again be a big force in the NRL it seems.