Souths were being talked up as massive premiership contenders, but Rabbit stew was the perfect menu for the Sea Eagles on a wet, wild and windy night.
A Burgess led destructive pack, Luke's explosive dummy half runs, Reynold's rookie of the year playmaking skills, Sutton's dangerous try assists, Taylor's mammoth frame and Merritt's wicked speed. These were all the dangers we expected on our 3rd consecutive away trip, but would they emerge from the warren?
Just 3 minutes in and Reynolds hoisted a bomb into the Gosford gail taking an evil turn that never gave Brett a chance. Before you could blink Burgess received a tap back and barged his massive rig over for a gift try. Nothing but pure luck there.
Getting good field position would surely be easy with this first half wind at our backs, but doing something with it would be the key. Immediately targeting their weak right side defence Foran took control, his great hands in turn allowing Brett's own instinctive skills to clinically put away Whare. Jamie's floating conversion a quick reminder that 2 pointers would be hard to come by, but 6-4 after only 7 minutes as good as an even score.
We really needed to take control of these next 33 minutes, but several sloppy sets combined with some bizarre incompletions were anything but steady. Our wingers are as enthusiastic as you could ever wish for, but Taufua and Wolfie both have a strange propensity to over run the play, more than once throwing away big opportunities for runaway sideline breaks. Need to work on that.
A strange first half with far too many sloppy sets, at one stage just 5/11 completions with wasted opportunities mounting, but finally in the 34th minute a repeat left side attack saw the Foran magic hands once again orchestrate a simple effecient try, this time Whare chiming in to send Taufua diving into the corner.
With seconds on the clock DCE calmly slotted a left foot field goal for the time warp score of 9-6. A first half of poor incompletions and wasted chances, but Souths had offered nothing, perhaps their danger men waiting for a 2nd half wind assist assault.
No prizes for guessing that Toov's half time speech would have centred around two words. Ball security. Lock that down and we'd be half a chance despite the wind against us.
Our forwards led the way with relentless hard work, none more so than the veteran Kite who's been superb form in recent weeks with his barging runs and workaholic defence. A perfect night for Kite flying ably assisted by the Chocaholic work rate.
Everyone knows our right side attack is a lethal Lyon inspired option, but our left side are equally dangerous and this was a night for them to constantly expose the gaping Bunny holes. Another Foran raid broke free over halfway and in a split second he summed up Taufua on his left a better option than DCE on his inside right. A nicely timed pass put away the flier down the left wing, but Taufua baffled himself with a sidestep past nobody in particular and the try chance evaporated.
A missed chance but good sides don't panic and we kept to the task. Sticking to the game plan we went straight back to the left side, and the ruthless Foran-Brett Stewart combo sent Taufua to the corner, this time posting a vitally important 13-6 lead.
Surely the Rabbits would climb out and find something? Reynolds? Sutton? Anyone? Souths might have been at 'home' but they couldn't have been more lost, Gosford looking far more like an Eagles nest than a homely Rabbit hole.
The 2nd half wind fear was bizarrely playing into our favour as we steadied the ship with relentless safe precision. The error count had fully reversed with Souths pushing passes and gifting possession. So disjointed they couldn't find a single set in our twenty. A staggering stat given the conditions. By contrast our sets were completed with smart safe plays, DCE and Lyon using intelligent kicks to eat up time and dominate territory.
A score of just 13-6 heading into the last 10 minutes is normally anything but safe, especially against weapons like Merritt, but you just never sensed we were in danger. Toovs had us playing letter perfect smart footy and the smartest of them all Jamie Lyon once again locking up the win. A right side play saw DCE run an arcing loop to find Lyon's hands and the maestro did the rest. With a split second jink he completely fooled two defenders before flicking a classic reverse pass to pilot Wolfman through a gaping hole and touch down.
19-6 was home and host but for good measure the workhorse Matty Ballin was rewarded with the final nail when he sliced through paper thin defence to set sail for a celebratory run to the try line. Hugs all round and why not.
As fill in Nine caller Sterlo (doing a way better job than most seasoned callers) added "that's the exclamation mark at the end of a strong Manly performance". Equally as accurate was Gould's observation that Souths six wins on the trot were all against lower placed teams, none of whom are the defending premiers. Wise words.
A very good win in tough conditions against a Souths team blinded by the Central Coast headlights. Stars like Luke, Reynolds, Sutton and Taylor curiously absent. Sure they had a massive weapon in that thug Inglis missing, but let's not forget we had two big stars Matai and Kingy sitting in the stands too.
A great 3 weeks to set up a perfect Sunday afto at Fortress Brookie to smash another team we hate. Bring on the Wayne Knights.
Brett Stewart: Turned a potentially nightmare prospect in gail force winds into another clinically safe play. We just look so much better with the Snake at the back.
Jorge Taufau: No doubt he'll be shown plenty of video to learn how to time his runs, but it's great fun watching him grow each week.
Dean Whare: Not Stevie Matai, but a very solid replacement.
Jamie Lyon: The smartest brain out there week after week has become pure Manly royalty. Some imbecile on the radio said a bad night with the boot. OMG were they serious?
David Williams: Like Taufua needs more timing lessons, but we never grow tired of his non stop enthusiasm.
Keiran Foran: One of those matches when you think he hasn't done too much, only to realise he's actually done loads and with brutal efficiency.
Daly Cherry-Evans: Like a kid in the backyard on a windy day he was loving it. Great game, and excellent kicking particularly into the blasting 2nd half wind.
Glenn Stewart: The usual rock defence and tuning up in attack nicely for a finals assault. The best lock in the game surely.
Tony Williams: Once again looked like the labrador who's not sure whether to play, sit or watch. But a 2nd half run that set up a key try scoring moment was vital.
Anthony Watmough: Great work rate as usual, just like to see him given a little more room on the edges. Even better is his vastly improved discipline.
Joe Guluvao: Appeared his role was more a first half one with just 30 minutes game total, but didn't take a backwards step as usual.
Matt Ballin: A well deserved try to cap off another solid game with 37 bruising tackles.
Brent Kite: Must have heard the too old questions a month ago, in superb form with 16 hit ups, 140 huge metres and 34 crunching tackles. Fully deserved MOM.
Jamie Buhrer: Can someone help with this, why only 13 minutes tonight and what's his real role? Maybe Toov's simply didn't need him tonight in a game we dominated.
Vic Mauro: The guy who never seems to get noticed but a solid 32 minute role.
George Rose: Just 22 minutes not a lot of game time but the obvious highlight was the fluro lime speedos. What a sight.
Tim Robinson: Was hoping he'd get more than 18 minutes to show his worth, nonetheless a very dependable and important back up man heading into the finals.
Expertly shut down the Bunnies with ruthless efficiency and made their danger men look more absent than a silent number. A lot to like about a win like this.
Nothing really comes to mind, not even a ref to complain about.
On the back of the fantastic defence at Townsville another brilliant shut out. In the last two matches we've conceded just 2 tries, but even more significantly both of them only conceded from mis handled bombs. 160 minutes of footy with not one ball through hands really footy tries conceded. That's premiership defence, and given our attack still has a hell of a lot left in the tank, a very nice prospect heading towards a top 4 lockdown. The sight of Toov's quietly addressing the boys in the room afterwards was a clear indication of how much we mean business.