Manly Sea Eagles captain and halfback Daly Cherry-Evans

Two of the greatest coaches of the modern era; Manly Sea Eagles Des Hasler and Melbourne Storm’s Craig Bellamy were 17-each in their head-to-head record leading into this Thursday night encounter at 4 Pines Park in Manly.

In the midst of a gruelling Origin period, The Storm would welcome back Ryan Papenhuyzen, but missing Felise Kaufusi and the competition’s most dangerous five eighth, Cameron Munster.

It would be the home side getting off to a shaky start, with errors plaguing the Sea Eagles’ efforts and seeing them completing only 2 from 7 sets in the opening stages of the game.

Despite this, it would be Tolutau Koula to draw first blood, stealing a misguided chip kick from Papenhuyzen and blazing 90m up-field to score against the run of play.

Papenhuyzen would offer the Storm’s strike-back as he sent a top-shelf cut-out pass to Nick Meaney to score in the corner and convert from the sideline under some heavy pressure from close range Manly fans.

‘Little Papi’ was showing glimpses of his classy best, but still shaking off cobwebs, sending a number of passes to ground throughout the night.

Meanwhile, Jayden Nikorima and Grant Anderson were having a night to forget, clear targets of Manly’s bigger and more elusive stalwarts.

Under intense pressure resulting from poor discipline, it was Manly’s Daly Cherry Evans stepping up to swing momentum by nailing a 40/20 in the twenty first minute.

On the next play, Kieran Foran would find his zone and combine with Reuben Garrick to send Jason Saab over for his first of the night’s two tries, in what looked like an easy training run.

Fox Sports’ Warren Smith and Cooper Cronk remarked how easily The Storm had been stripped for numbers out wide, and this would be the case throughout the evening.

Cherry Evans’ kicking game was on song, and a floating bomb came down with snow on it, with Papenhuyzen and Nick Meaney failing to communicate and leaving it to bounce into the willing arms of Manly’s Christian Tuipulotu who extended the lead further.

The tide had turned and Manly were dominating in every facet of the game, yet only held a slender 14-6 lead.

When it looked as though that would be the score taken into the half-time break, Kieran Foran again turned back the clock and turned a four-on-four into an overlap with ease, spreading it out to Andrew Davey who dished to Saab to fall over on the stroke of half-time.

Early in the second half, Melbourne’s uncharacteristic performance amplified, and it was their turn to drop simple catches and give away senseless penalties.

Foran continued to capitalise and target the Anderson wing, combining again with Garrick, this time to provide for Morgan Harper to grab a try.

Garrick was struggling with a hip complaint, leaving Cherry Evans to goal kick and this limited their march up the score board.

Koula was churning through the work and unleashing a game-high 195 running metres on the edge.

His line break had Melbourne on the back foot and in the 53rd minute, Haumole Olakau’atu busted four tackles in a herculean effort to get to the try line.

The Storm were struggling as a unit, lacking in combinations, missing cohesion in the halves and clearly missing the magic of Munster and the starch of Kaufusi.

Earlier in the season, it had been Munster struggling to carry the team in the absence of Jahrome Hughes.

It was only through an individual effort from Brandon Smith, stealing the ball from Martin Taupau and plunging over under the posts in the 54th minute that would give the side any sniff of a comeback.

Craig Bellamy was steaming up the coach’s box with fury and hooked young Nikorima, fearing another Olakau’atu onslaught, yet it was Cherry Evans’ exceptional vision to this time choose to cut the wrecking ball out, hitting Koula on the chest for him to grab his second try of the night in the 60th minute.

Manly seemingly had the game wrapped up with a considerable margin built by a performance for the ages from the halves combination of Cherry Evans and Foran.

Hasler even decided to give Origin hero Jake Trbojevic a rest.

But what happened while ‘Jurbo’ was off the field had the NRL world in a lather: four tries in four minutes to a barn-storming Nelson Asofa Solomona, Justin Olam and two to Papenhuyzen had Hasler tearing his hair out and leaving the Storm with six seconds to score a last ditch leveller.

Having blown a recent game to the North Queensland Cowboys by conceding three tries in three minutes, it was not to be this time as ‘Eagle Rock’ belted out around the ground with Manly holding tight to record a 36-30 win.

Not one to criticise his players openly or publicly very often, Bellamy admitted that there were some individual performances that left him disappointed.

“I was just really disappointed in our defence and some individual performances… just weren’t up to scratch,” Bellamy said.

Although the four minutes of mayhem left him pulling his hair out, Hasler admitted that there were positives to take from the game.

“Some parts weren’t pretty but there’s a lot there that is positive which is what we’ll take out of it,” Hasler said.

NRL News Player of the Game

3 – Daly Cherry Evans (MAN)

2 – Kieran Foran (MAN)

1 – Tolutau Koula (MAN)

Manly Sea Eagles veteran half Kieran Foran


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.