It’s official. The Manly boys have got their swagger back.
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After a slow start to the season and even more recently, a very painful seven-week losing period, the Sea Eagles have won four in a row, with each victory more impressive than the one before.
Even allowing for the fact they cruised through the last 30 minutes, when the game was there to be won in the first 50 minutes, they out-muscled, out-ran, out-played and outclassed Newcastle in front of a supportive home crowd, who now dare to dream of yet another finals appearance for this wonderful club.
Right from the outset you could see the Manly boys were out to dominate their less experienced opponents. They led 36-0 after 45 minutes and their job was as good as done for the afternoon.
If coach Trent Barrett was being over-critical, he could raise concerns over the fact they were beaten 16-0 by the Knights over the last 34 minutes. I suspect though, they all have their eyes on bigger challenges as they walk to the tightrope to September football.
From my perspective there were three main factors in this display.
Firstly, Manly maintained a very high standard for physicality in the collisions on every play. They ran hard and they tackled hard. That may seem like a pretty simple philosophy, but sometimes when playing against lesser-rated opponents, a team can be guilty of trying to win without bruises. Not so Manly. They were intent on dealing out bruises. They hit hard in defence. They charged onto the ball with real aggression. Not just the forwards; every player ran with intent.
Secondly, the Manly attacking game looked really well organised. Take a bow, coach Barrett. When in attacking zones they showed a real purpose. They were able to get into position to target weaknesses in the Newcastle defensive line. In the first half they attacked the right side defence with great results. They flipped over to the other side early in the second half to score another couple of tries.
The ball movement was swift and precise. The execution on sets plays was excellent. Their game had a real flow to it.
The third factor?
Normally I am reticent to heap praise on one so young. I have no hesitation with this kid though. He is something special. He was an undeniable factor in Manly’s big win here. I predict he will be a dominant factor in many wins for this club over the next decade.
It’s always exciting when a genuine superstar announces himself to the rugby league world. Commentators have been guilty time and again of being premature with such declarations. There’s no doubt on this occasion. Tom is the real deal.
In this game alone he displayed his vast array of passing skills, not to mention his ability to break tackles and create opportunities for teammates. He tormented the Newcastle defensive line every time he handled the ball.
This kid is a sensation.
The Knights? Well, it’s tough times and this has been a very tough year. But I will say this about them; they haven’t given up. They have a lot of injuries and a number of youngsters have been exposed to the NRL before their time, but they never shirk their task and show a collective spirit to keep competing as strongly as they can at all times. After trailing 36-0 with a lot of time left on the clock, many commentators were reaching for the record books to research biggest winning and losing margins.
The Knights boys were having none of that rubbish. They dug in and had a real crack.
They spent extended periods defending their own goal line and continued to deny the Sea Eagles any more points for the final 34 minutes. They also produced three good tries of their own.
Forget about respectability on the scoreboard. They put respectability into their effort levels.
Some of these youngsters are getting some tough lessons during this difficult period. However, such experience will be invaluable in years to come as they continue building their NRL careers.
For Manly, this victory keeps their momentum going. They now face some serious opposition, but in their current form they will be hard to beat in any game they play.