A MORAL victory for Manly, perhaps, as well as a morale-boosting one. Time and again this season, many have pondered how much of their success has come through Des Hasler's coaching. It's a question which will probably not be answered for some time yet but, in beating Hasler's new team last night, Geoff Toovey's Manly team have proved a point.
The Sea Eagles didn't even need five-eighth Kieran Foran to do so. Foran, whose shadow loomed over this match as much as Hasler's did as he wrestled over a decision which is now made, was left to watch on from the sidelines as his team won without him. That they could win without Hasler and Foran was a big step.
On the attack ... Matt Ballin of the Eagles offloads. Photo: Getty Images
We have seen Wayne Bennett's Newcastle fail twice this season against the coach's old club - St George Illawarra - and now Hasler has failed to topple his ex-players. Yes, Hasler knows much about his former players, but ditto them of him. This turned into more of a battle of hits than one of wits; their were some belters. It was tough and it was willing. The player who looked the most likely to break it open was fullback Ben Barba, but the Sea Eagles ultimately prevented him from doing too much damage.
The crowd of 24,743 was a modest one and it was clear that, as feared, many Manly fans had stayed at home rather than voice their disapproval at their former coach. The match deserved a better turn-out. Hasler looked rather comfortable, or as comfortable as Hasler gets, prior to the match, as he completed a pre-match interview with the broadcaster, during which he acknowledged a ''helluva build-up''.
Toovey, meanwhile, needed a security guard to point him in the direction of the coach's box prior to kick-off, highlighting his inexperience. His players suffered from similar confusion. Toovey found his seat just in time to see Jorge Taufua drop said kick-off.
Jorge Taufua of the Eagles takes a high ball. Photo: Getty Images
The Bulldogs couldn't capitalise immediately on their opponent's early gift but it didn't take them long; Barba showed speed, footwork and guile to score Hasler's first points as a coach against Manly when he fended off Steve Matai and dummied and shimmied past Brett Stewart to score.
Manly eventually arrived at the party, although there were many who thought their dress was inappropriate. The camouflage jerseys for the occasion might have been fodder for jokes about going missing, but it also highlighted the new-look feel. Not just the fact that Foran wasn't playing, but the Sea Eagles were still welcoming back a handy player in Glenn Stewart, who has been missing himself since round one.
Stewart, in fact, almost scored the Sea Eagles' first try. Only a slight knock-on by centre Jamie Lyon in the lead-up denied the back-rower from making a swift impact on his side. That said, it was clear that Stewart gave the Sea Eagles an extra point of attack on the right edge, and he was worrying the Bulldogs.
The Sea Eagles grew into the contest, and on the stroke of half-time, they clawed back half of the deficit, through a Lyon penalty goal. They weren't quite themselves, but they were still quite capable.
Not only was Stewart playing his first game since round one, but his brother Brett was also returning after a less significant break. The fullback is just as valuable to the Sea Eagles, and he showed that just after the break, when he showed strength to score Manly's first try.
The Bulldogs looked to have edged in front when, in the 69th minute, Lyon - switched to the wing in the absence of the injured David Williams - attempted to shepherd the ball dead-in goal, but watched in horror as Bulldogs winger Bryson Goodwin swooped. Video referee Phil Cooley, though, disallowed it. There wasn't much in it. There wasn't all night.
Matai put Manly out by eight before Goodwin made it a two-point match minutes later to set up a thrilling finish, but it was Toovey celebrating this time.
MANLY 12 (S Matai B Stewart tries J Lyon 2 goals) bt BULLDOGS 10 (B Barba B Goodwin tries B Goodwin goal) at ANZ Stadium. Referee: Shayne Hayne, Brett Suttor. Crowd: 24,743.
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Rose rises to the occasion in top-grade comeback
Match winner ... George Rose offloads to set up Manly's victory. Photo: Getty Images
''IT'S great to be back,'' big George Rose said last night, as he soaked up his first winning NRL dressing room of the season. ''I've missed this.''
How much? Well, put this into perspective. Asked after his starring performance whether being sidelined so far this year has been more difficult than his time off the field due to injury, Rose picked the former.
''There was nothing that was holding me back from being on the field,'' Rose said. ''When I had the injuries, I was sitting down on crutches. That was the reason I wasn't on the field. To be playing footy and ready to go, it was harder to not be a part of the side.''
Rose, the cult figure with an ample figure, has not played in the top grade since the World Club Challenge defeat. Since then, he has been forced to bide his time in the NSW Cup, wondering when his chance would come. It ultimately did against the Bulldogs, and he took it, producing a performance which was capped off by an offload for centre Steve Matai's game-sealing try.
He spoke about the try in typical Rose style, with humility but plenty of humour. ''I was disappointed, more than anything,'' he said. ''I wanted to get over myself. I saw the line and went for myself. I couldn't get there. I couldn't give it to a better bloke than Stevie [Matai]. He deserved it. I'll just take the try assist and he can owe me one.''
Asked about his season so far, he said: ''It's been tough. At times when I was close, the team was going really great. We won 30-0 a couple of weeks ago against the Panthers - I thought I'd been playing pretty good in the weeks leading up to it, but it was just a timing thing. The timing was right this week, and I'm here. Whatever's happened, it doesn't really matter. I'm just looking forward to what happens from here on in.''
Rose is clearly not expecting anything. And his coach Geoff Toovey is not promising anything. He said the interchange forward's ''general fitness'' had been holding him back this season.
''We all know what George is capable of, and what his potential is, and I've expressed to him that we need to see that every week,'' Toovey said. ''He's come on in leaps and bounds, and I think he had a fantastic game. I couldn't have asked for anything more.''
Rose knows not even that will guarantee him a start next time. ''I'm just happy to be back on the field now,'' he said. ''I'm seven or eight weeks behind everyone else, with match fitness. I've still got a long way to go. Hopefully I can stay in the side. I was happy with that for my first game, but I still have a lot of things I want to work on.''
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Hasler none from two as he concedes defeat in race for Foran
AFTER a disappointing loss to his former team Manly, Bulldogs coach Des Hasler last night also conceded defeat in his bid to poach star five-eighth Kieran Foran from the premiers.
Hasler, who admitted he had enjoyed the build-up to his first encounter with the club he was sacked by after signing with Canterbury for 2013, said he had not heard from Foran but accepted that he would be staying with Manly.
''Kieran Foran has always had to make a choice and if he has made that choice to stay at Manly then congratulations to Manly,'' Hasler said at the press conference after his side's 12-10 loss.
''He is not only a quality footballer, he is also a quality person and it would have been a tough decision for him but if he has decided to stay then congratulations.''
Despite the closeness of the match and the effort of his team, which lost winger Steve Turner with a broken kneecap in the second half, Hasler and his players were disappointed at full-time.
The match had finished two tries apiece but Hasler said Canterbury needed to learn how to win close games against quality opposition.
''We're one from five now, we have probably played two quality sides now in the last two weeks - that being Melbourne and Manly tonight,'' Hasler said.
''I thought we were in a position to win both those games but … you have got to be consistent and play pretty well the 80 minutes.
''But we are a young side, we are still learning and that is what we have to build to.''
Manly, on the other hand, are an experienced outfit with a rookie coach, and they were bolstered last night by the return from injury of Brett and Glenn Stewart.
''They are great players,'' Hasler said. ''One is an Australian back-rower and one is an Australian fullback; one is the most prolific tryscorer in the game and one is a great ball player, but I think we defended pretty well against them tonight.
''Manly are a good side, they are the NRL premiers and they are getting a few back. They are a benchmark and that is why these games are so enjoyable.''
While Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey described the hype surrounding last night's match as a ''distraction'', Hasler had no such complaints.
''That's what it is about, it is all theatre isn't it,'' he said. ''Sure it is a distraction but you have just got to manage that.''
Toovey said he was pleased with the performance of his side after losing their last match against the Titans but the big test will be whether they can play like that again next week against Canberra.
''The thing that pleased me the most was our goal-line defence,'' he said. ''In the first half it was five penalties to nil, I don't get it. I am sure someone will explain it to me.
''Having Glenn Stewart back I thought made a big difference, it gave a lot of confidence to the other players as well and I thought he played particularly well considering he has been out for five or six weeks.
''I think all of the players are probably relieved to get this game out of the way; there has been a lot of hype around it and we always knew that was going to be the case. I was just pleased we got the two points.''
Asked if he had spoken to Hasler at full-time, Toovey said: ''No. But I will have to shout him a beer, I suppose.''
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