MANLY started Monday evening in Townsville having not won away from home since round eight and without consecutive victories since a fortnight before that. Having ended both hoodoos, they finished the night back in the top four.
The most consistent thing about Geoff Toovey’s side since their impressive start to their season has been their ability to win roughly every second week. But that is not the sort of consistency any team is looking for seven weeks from the finals.
In the end, their big guns did enough in the final quarter of the 1300smiles Stadium game to win comfortably.
But despite the absence of North Queensland’s Origin stars and the indifferent form of the Cowboys, it wasn’t until well into the second half that Manly took the final match of round 18 by the throat
The 9029 crowd howled when a knock-on was called against NQ centre Antonio Winterstein in the 53rd minute, deep in his own territory after an intercept.
And the Sea Eagles made the home side pay, Brett Stewart putting Jorge Taufua over for his side’s fourth try, which skipper Jamie Lyon duly converted from the sideline.
Second rower Justin Horo then brushed off the dispairing tackle of Matt Bowen after running a perfect line towards the tryline, Lyon again making a bird of the conversion.
centre Steve Matai dotted down with 12 to go and it started to feel like a bit of a procession.
But late inclusion Bowen garnered the biggest cheer of the night when he flashed over for a short-range try after 18 minutes.
Manly had opened the scoring with a spectacular touchdown from their own side of halfway eight minutes earlier. David Williams offloaded to fellow winger Taufua who streaked downfield, finding Kieran Foran backing up inside.
Foran, in turn, looped a pass to hooker Matt Ballin who kept the desperate defence at bay to cross between the posts, Jamie Lyon converting.
There was a contentious refereeing call – or non-call – in the lead-up to the Bowen try. Brenton Lawrence appeared to be illegally stripped of the ball by Anthony Mitchell but the whistlers ruled “play on”.
The 31-year-old dummied, stepped and sliced through to touch down just to the left of the posts. Another late inclusion. Ethan Lowe, added the extras for 6-6 and soon added a penalty goal to edge his side ahead.
But it was Comedy Capers when Manly kicked dead on the full and then the Cowboys failed to find touch when awarded the resulting penalty on halfway.
Manly reclaimed the advantage when replacement Richie Fa’aoso took on the defence from close-range, accepted the tackles of two defenders and remained upright long enough to put captain Lyon over for his 99th career try before converting
The Cowboys strung together their own eye-catching passage of passing six minutes before the break, with Lowe pulled up half a metre short.
The Cowboys reclaimed the lead just four minutes into the second half, due to an uncharacteristic Brett Stewart error. Morgan, a late starter at five-eighth at the expense of Ray Thompson, grubber-kicked ahead and Stewart failed to ground the ball cleanly in Manly’s in-goal.
Replays confirmed Morgan was first to the lolling Steeden and video referees Jason Robinson and Justin Morgan flashed the green light.
But after a Cowboys fumble in their own quarter, Manly scored straight from a scrum win, with Peter Hiku, Brett Stewart and Jamie Lyon involved in the lead-up for winger Williams to cross just inside the corner post.
Lyon failed to convert, creating another two-point difference between the sides. Then it blew out.
MANLY 34 (M Ballin J Lyon D Williams J Taufua J Horo S Matai tries J Lyon 5 goals) bt NORTH QUEENSLAND 14 (M Bowen M Morgan tries E Lowe 3 goals) at 1300smiles Stadium. Referees: A Klein/D Munro. Crowd: 9029.