By STEVE MASCORD
IF events at Cronulla last night were supposed to spook the other NRL teams named in ASADA’s Doping report, then clearly no-one told Manly about events at Cronulla.
The Sea Eagles are one of six NRL teams mentioned in the report , which caused its first round of havoc some two hours before kick-off in the only Friday night match of round one when Sharks coach Shane Flanagan was stood down and four officials sacked.
But Geoff Toovey’s Sea Eagles were anything but distracted as they took on Brisbane in a game which commemorated the Broncos’ premiership debut against the same opposition 25 years ago. Despite some sheer brilliance from the home side in the first half, Manly gamely fought their way to the front after halftime – and stayed there.
Co-incidentally, Brisbane had led that 1988 match 14-6 at halftime and that was how the ledge stood at the same stage last night. Brisbane had trouble scoring points last year but had seemed to turn over a new leaf in that department during the opening 40 minutes.
That all began to change when Manly halfback Daly Cherry Evans beat Peter Wallace and held off Corey Norman and Andrew McCullough to score in the 48th minute. Captain Jamie Lyon’s goal narrowed the margin – and then the Eagles gobbled it up.
Charging onto Brett Stewart’s pass, centre Steve Matai – who had relished his battle all night with Justin Hodges – roared into the opposition half, feigned to pass and then arrowed at the posts as he held off the desperate defence of Scott Prince to just reach the tryline.
It was Matai’s second try and was soon followed by another Sea Eagles score, to winger David Williams, after Cherry Evans’ big hit jolted the ball loose from Jack Reed just metres from the Broncos’s own line.
Broncos fans had been given a “rally towel” to wave at last night’s match, bearing their colours and the name of a sponsor. The reverse of it was white and some cynics suggested it was more appropriate for the second half of an entertaining encounter.
Brisbane went into last night’s game having failed to score more than 20 points in all but one of their previous 10 games.
They could have reached that mark by halftime, had centre Reed not been rightly denied a try by video referees Paul Mellor and Neil Wharton right on the break.
The Broncos eschewed a penalty goal attempt at the 13-minute mark and hooker Andrew McCullough scored what the on-field officials believed to be a try second later.
When the eyes in the sky found that the rake had been short, defender Anthony Watmough was penalised for being offside at marker. This time, the home side went for the safety first option and the returning Scott Prince opened the scoring with a penalty goal.
A battle between centres Matai and Justin Hodges was spicy from the beginning, the latter throwing the former over the western touchline during the early exchanges.
On the other side, England centre Reed looked set to score the first try of the match but was pummelled by Jamie Lyon.
But Hodges delivered the first real scoring blow, stepping between two defenders and unleashing a sublime flick pass from his right hand to Matt Gillett, who was standing on his left, for the second rower’s 19th-minute touchdown. Prince goaled for 8-0.
“Tell them to do their job,” Hodges said to referee Alan Shortall, in reference to the touch judges.
Manly could have responded when five-eighth Keiran Foran hacked a loose ball from 20 metres out in the 24th minute – but he put too much weight on it and the Steeden dribbled over the northern dead-ball line before he could reach it.
When Manly finally managed to score, it came after captain Lyon forced a restart by centre-kicking to the in-goal when he was hemmed in by defenders in the north-eastern corner.
Daly Cherry Evans and Brett Stewart combined for Matai to cross on the western side, Lyon managing to land a difficult conversion and narrow the margin to two.
Manly then provided the infant season with its best try.
In a movement which covered some 75 metres over the course of two plays. Josh Hoffman made the intial bust, Reed was tackled and play swept to the right Prince and Hodges throwing heady flick passes and Gillett shovelling possession on as well before winger Lachlan Maranta triumphantly dotted down on the right.
Prince’s goal then made it 14-6 before Reed spilt the ball over the line.
MANLY 22 (S Matai 2 D Cherry-Evans D Williams tries J Lyon 3 goals) bt BRISBANE 14 (M Gillett L Maranta tries Prince 3 goals) at Suncorp Stadium Referees: S Hayne/A Shortall. Crowd: 31,139
BRISBANE: Corey Norman; Josh Hoffman, Jack Reed, Justin Hodges,Lachlan Maranta; Scott Prince, Peter Wallace; Corey Parker, Matt Gillett, Alex Glenn, Sam Thaiday (c), Andrew McCullough, Josh McGuire. Res: Ben Hunt, Ben Hannant, Mitchell Dodds, David Stagg.
MANLY: Brett Stewart; Jorge Taufua, Jamie Lyon (c), Steve Matai, David Matai, David Williams; Keiran Foran, Daly Cherry-Evans; Jamie Buhrer, Justin Horo, Anthony Watmough, Brent Kite, Matt Ballin, Brenton Lawrence. Res: Richie Fa’aoso, Joe Galuvao, David Gower, Jesse Sene-Lefao.
Referees: Shayne Hayne/Alan Shortall