After the Desdogs disappointment we headed back 'home' to the SFS to take on the Thurston/Bowen show in a must win contest. Would we deliver?
The infamous slow Manly chant went up as the players poured down the north east side of the ground. A spine tingling welcome, and this was just the pre game warm up. Welcome 'home' to the SFS, it feels good to be here.
From the opening we made our intent clear, hard determined defence, safe dependable sets, and good field territory.
A Foran cross field floater in the 5th minute saw Lyon the incredible out leap the opposition and tap the ball back to a waiting Glenn Stewart who rifled an instant pass to Oldfield for the dive in the corner. 4-0 a great start.
Minutes later another right side play saw Oldfield put away down the touchline and he showed his considerable pace tearing away from the cover with only Bowen to beat. DCE raced up in perfect support for the put away try pass, but as the little master Bowne made the gallant tackle Oldfield's flick pass went astray and the chance was lost. A very encouraging sign nonetheless.
The Cowboys were trying to get into the game but Manly's aggression was dominating, and in the 20th minute a left side raid from our own 20 metre line saw a ball go out to Taufua. Catching it behind his back before somehow safely squeezing it back round to his front, the left side flyer was off down the touchline on a scorching run before arcing infield to link up with you know who coming like a lightning missile. The pass hit Brett on the chest and it was pure poetry in motion as the snake slithered away to slide over and nail a 10-0 lead.
This was great stuff and you sensed the we might rack up a match winning lead within the half hour mark, but instead it was the Cowboys who became the dominant side. Choc gave away a couple of gasping penalties and the pressure was mounting. Even the best defence can't repel multiple repeat sets, and Tamou made us pay with a 30th minute bullucking charge to get the Cows right back in the picture.
Both sides threw everything at the last 10 before half time, we knew a try would open up a commanding lead, they of course willing for a 12 all deadlock. But it never came either way and the Manly chant rose as the siren sounded. 12-6 and a big second half awaiting.
Manly's so called abysmal second half displays was the talk of the break. Would we 'falter' again. What a load of garbage. As clearly documented in these reports our so called second half 'fades' were directly the result of preserving the health of our troops when we had matches totally in the bag. The sort of smart thinking that has allowed us to be here in this very semi final. As for the Dogs last week, did anyone care to note that NEITHER team scored in the last 24 minutes? It's not like we lost the second half 20-0!
Just 5 minutes in and Taufua took another great hit up, desperate to get us out of the danger zone. As Taufua rose to play the ball Ashley Graham placed his hand on it and ripped it out with the refs calling for a lost ball and a Cowboys scrum. The replays showed there was 100% proof, with absolutely no possible doubt, the ball had been illegally stripped. The call stood and the Cowboys were given the scrum feed. The refs acknowledged the mistake but told Lyon it was too late to change the call. Why nobody knows give the scrum was only set well after the video ref could so easily have reported the strip.
The Cows attacked to the left and Thurston lobbed a questionable floater to Winterstein who race over to score. A massive turning point to put the Cows back in the game at 12 all. A very lucky break for them only making us even more determined
The Manly crowd in brilliant full voice down the eastern bays stirred our boys into more heroic action, defending gallantly to dismantle the Thurston waves.
And so to the defining moments of the games.
In the 53rd minute Taufua surged for the corner and planted the ball down for the try attempt, but it was clearly short of the line. 4,000 replays showed that his bent arm cradling the ball was then lifted in the surge and his body mass was shifted by the tackler over the line. His arm was then forced back down to the turf, clearly all in the one motion of momentum, resulting in the point of the ball connecting with the grass. Examination after examination showed Taufua's arm movement resulting in the touchdown was due to one word. Momentum. The very word referee Hayne used. The try was awarded and we led 16-12.
Had this been any other team in the NRL the focus would have been on Taufua's brilliance in keeping control of the ball. Of course this is Manly and the only discussion was how badly the Cows had been ripped off.
Imagine this happening a 2nd time? Yep it did. In the 63rd minute DCE piloted a monster bomb from 30 metres out, purposely ignited to send Lyon on a flying run for the ball. Bowen missed it completely and the ball bounced straight up in the air. Thurston and Foran both leapt to contest it and what happens here will be argued for the next century, but the simple fact is a million replays were inconclusive. Had Thurston tapped the ball or had Foran? I'm still not sure. But what did happen is that Lyon pounced on it, was tackled short but not held, squeezed the ball backwards, DCE instinctively kicked it forward, and Oldfield dived on it for the try.
Thurston went off like a cheap firecracker, and up in the Nine box Gould couldn't stop moaning about it for the next 10 minutes.
Remarkably in all of this a game was still going on, where one team used all their experience to slam the fortress door shut, and the other was left to whinge like a big bunch of big sooks.
The siren sounded to a raucous response from the brilliantly vocal Manly crowd. Manly 22 Cowboys 12.
The rest of the world will still be whinging about this for an age, but even Blocker Roach on 2GB admitted the critical truth when he summarised that of the 3 second half contentious tries only one of them was 100% clearly proved to be incorrect, and that was the Cowboys try after the blatant strip.
Call it 12-6 if you like, but clearly, without doubt, the better team won the game.
Brett Stewart: Sensational performance, safe as a rock at the back, and right there perfectly for that scintillating try.
Jorge Taufau: Man of the match sensational game.
Dean Whare: Proved he's a better centre than a winger.
Jamie Lyon: Miracles do happen. What a player.
Michael Oldfield: Slotted in like a seasoned pro.
Keiran Foran: Agonisingly short of that line break so many times, another massively solid game.
Daly Cherry-Evans: Not even a massive Cowboy shot can stop the little maestro.
Glenn Stewart: The best thing about Glenn right now is that good as he is we all know he has so much more in the tank
Tony Williams: Still frustrating us all with nowhere near enough runs at the right time, but some great touches all the same.
Anthony Watmough: Overcame a poor first half and 3 conceded penalties to work his butt off in the second.
Jason King: Only 27 mins due to the shoulder.
Matt Ballin: Played his role perfectly in the now Ballin-Buhrer headgear show.
Brent Kite: Worked tirelessly all night.
Jamie Buhrer: A short but inspired dummy half cameo.
Joe Guluvao: Evergreen Joe belted it up to great effect.
Darcy Lussick: A strong performance and a pity they're coming when we're going to lose him.
Vic Mauro: Not a big impact with only a late run.
We won. Could there be anything better?
Some missed opportunities in attack, but that bad might be a good next week.
The media obsession with deciding this game was robbed from the Cowboys, totally and utterly ignoring the fact the only reason they got to 12 points was on the back of an illegal strip, and of course on top of that ignoring who the better team was.
A stirring fight back after the Desdgs loss. Bring on Melbourne. We know we can beat them, and we'll show we deserve another crack at Ennis and his clowns to retain our premiership title. Bring it on.