The Sea Eagles have piled more pressure on the North Queensland Cowboys and their under-seige coach Graham Murray by turning on the afterburners against the undermanned Cowboys tonight.Â
Led well up from by forward Brent Kite, displaying why he should be in theÂ NSW Blues State of Origin teamÂ but on the flipside, no. 7 Matt Orford confirmed why he was not considered as a viable halfback optionÂ as Manly got home 38-6.
Rejected by NSW selectors for State of Origin I, Kite provided a worthy response to being the only Australian Test star not picked for his state by turning in a strong forward’s performance as the Sea Eagles claimed a comprehensive seven tries to one win in front of a paltry crowd of 9343.
A surprise starter off the interchange, Kite came on to help set up super-sub Adam Cuthbertson for the first of his two opening half tries and was Manly’s best ball carrier in a game where they easily won the battle up the middle.
But while Kite was faultless, half-back Orford produced one horrific clanger that overshadowed an otherwise dominant game but would go a long way to explaining his continued absence from the NSW side.
With Manly in complete control at 16-0 the Sea Eagles started to throw the ball around deep in their own half but North Queensland’s rushing defence got into Orford’s face and his wildly panicked pass went to ground for centre Ben Farrar to scoop up and run 30m for his side’s only try.
It was a low-light in a game where Orford provided kicks for three tries and an inside pass which led to another.
His clever kicking game in the opening half kept the pressure on North Queensland with repeat possession enabling the Eagles eight of the last nine sets which led to Cuthbertson’s two tries for a 12-0 halftime lead.
He then came up with the sneaky grubber in the 50th minute that was collected by Jamie Lyon who put David Williams over for his first NRL try in just his second game.
Orford’s reverse banana kick led to Manly’s final try in the 72nd minute as it rebounded gently off the post for fullback Michael Robertson to win the battle to ground the ball.
Robertson added a second in the final minute when Orford’s inside pass opened up the Cowboys defence while the halfback’s cross field kick in the 75th flew over the pack for Nick Bradley-Qalilawea to also score.
Despite a sloppy opening Manly were never really troubled in the clash as the Cowboys attack struggled without Origin trio Johnathan Thurston, Carl Webb and Jacob Lillyman.
The loss is North Queensland’s fourth in succession and adds to their year of misery with rumours suggesting it could be coach Graham Murray’s final time in charge.
Murray said he was refusing to get swept up in the speculation over his future, while club chief executive Peter Parr would not comment.
â€œI have not given it too much thought,â€ said Murray. â€œMy emphasis is coaching a first grade football side and that takes a lot of time.â€
Kite, meanwhile, was happy with his own response to the shock snub from NSW selectors, but was not too optimistic his strong club performances would thrust him back into sky blue later in the Origin series.
â€œI was pretty hurt, I was pretty shattered for a little while,â€ said Kite.
â€œYou miss out and you’re disappointed but the upside is you are there for your club.
â€œI can only play my best. It’s hard to say (if I will get a chance later in series) once they go one way, who knows what is going to happen.â€
Manly ran in their final four tries in the last 20 minutes of the contest as the floodgates opened to propel them into second place on the NRL ladder.
While both coaches agreed the final scoreline did not reflect the tightness of the contest, Manly captain Orford knew his side could pile on late points if they continued mounting pressure.
â€œWe knew 10 to 15 minutes out from full time there was going to be spaces if we held onto the ball,â€ said Orford.
â€œThey made us play a patient game but credit to the boys we hung in there.â€