The 21 year hoodoo was finally broken by Manly at Shark Park tonight; but only just – as a young and enthusiastic Sharks outfit went within millimetres of taking the win.
From the onset, the Sharks looked like winning just through sheer enthusiasm as they drove Manly backwards with the ball and gang tackled effectively to make a game of it.
Manly missing Matt Orford and Travis Burns did lack their usual precision and direction around centre field, but Michael Monaghan again showed his worth – probing all night, laying on some fine passing and closing the match out with a long range field goal in the final minutes.
The nerves were evident from Manly in the beginning and it wasn’t until the inexperienced Sharks pack began to tire, that Manly found the gaps and grew in confidence. Similar to NSW in Origin 3 however, the Sea Eagles just couldn’t find the killer blow until the final minutes.
With the scores locked at 22 all and under 10 minutes remaining, fill-in half back Brett Seymour went for a 12 metre field goal – narrowly missing as he hit the right hand up right. From the return set, the Sea Eagles get a penalty and go on to score – that was the different in the end. A single penalty that turned the game.
While Ricky Stuart will be happy with the effort of a spare parts team; he will be frustrated with the one that got away – knowing the Sharks could have easily stolen that game.
Mitch Brown and Fraser Anderson were standouts for the Sharks, with Luke Douglas physical and effective centre field.
Manly would have enjoyed the test tonight, and the form of forwards Adam Cuthbertson and Glenn Hall will have Des Hasler breathing easier. Brett Stewart continues to be slick in attack, an effective Manly weapon with pure speed that opposition teams simply cannot plan for.
The negative for Manly was the amount of points they leaked tonight. The usually bulletproof Sea Eagles line was pierced several times tonight; with the Sharks possibly handing other Top 8 sides a blueprint for scoring against Manly.
Jamie Lyon continues to lack defensive technique suited to pivot, his sliding style and failure to read short second man plays proved a problem for Manly as did the continued aggression of Steve Matai on the left edge. The Sharks baited Matai and executed a quality trap play to suck Matai in and send the wide defender in for the try – something they obviously talked about and Ricky Stuart couldn’t hide his delight as the set play came off.
On the bright side, it’s much better for Manly to find these problems now and Des Hasler and the squad will work overtime to iron out the issues before they face the Eels at Parramatta Stadium next week.