A short turnaround to face the desperate Broncos, would this be a Friday night bump in the road or a 5 in a row charge to top 4 bliss?
When the Broncos arrived on Tuesday it was pretty clear they were treating this as a Grand Final after slumping to 5 straight losses (and 6 of the last 7). Coming off the short turnaround and struggling with injuries, bumps and bruises this was never going to be an easy task.
From the kick off we looked keen and intent on a very solid defensive structure. Set after set ticking off the game plan mandatories, strong hit ups, no errors, and committed kick chases. Our forwards sensed the chance to dominate the Broncos who quickly realised this fortress was all but impenetrable.
T Rex was looking to carve them up early down the left, twice sending the pins flying on his way to an early strike only to come up spare inches short.
Something had to give and it did in the 17th minute when Glenn instinctively popped Brett through a mid field hole to inject the infamous blistering pace. Scorching down field like a missile Brett found DCE on his right hip only to be halted by desperate defence, but the Broncos were shredded and a quick play the ball found the ever smart Foran pouring in on his unfamiliar right to send Mr Dependable Jamie Lyon on his way, stepping inside the shot cover to plant the opening points. The conversion pushed wide but a nice 4-0 start.
The attacking juices were flowing and just 3 minutes later Foran, back on his familiar left side, weighted an inch perfect attacking chip over the defence for the Snake to unleash more venom, taking the perfect bounce and crashing through the gates for the second try. 10-0 and we looked intent.
A brilliant DCE 40/20 set the Broncos buckling on their heels, and minutes later the little maestro orchestrated the 3rd try with a bullet pass across the line to Lyon who once again fooled the opposition. In that split second the Broncos were thinking "oh no will he step around us to the right like he so often does and score himself, or will he throw one of those magic passes to his winger (Whare standing in for Wolfie) to score in the corner?" But such is the Jamie Lyon magic that he did precisely neither, instead catching and seemingly without looking snapping a ball back inside to his left to for the lurking Brett to inject try no 2.
66 tries in 70 Brookie games. What an extraordinary record. The Manly alternate chant went up again "Brett Stewart, clap clap clap, Brett Stewart….." and it was beaming smiles everywhere except the Broncos den.
A ruthlessly dominant first half with 19/20 completions, 16 points to the good, and the fortress 100% intact.
A bizarre repeat scenario where the 2nd half might only need a 2nd gear cruise to the line.
The instructions were no doubt simple, keep the fortress walls closed and bring the 2 points home.
The Broncos came out with a willing attitude, and despite some less than perfect attack began to test our resolve early. From dominating possession we now spent long periods defending our line, and defend we did frustrating Wallace who was trying every which way to find something, anything.
Buhrer was injecting brilliant spark in his now confirmed dummy half cameo role, and Choc was having a whale of a game typically doing all those things we love in leading our pack. The bull at a gate runs, the muscle man don't argue defence, the harrowing kick chases, and again even more pleasing to say, with the once regulation silly errors and ill discipline nowhere to be seen. George wanted a piece of the action too deciding to try his hand, or rather feet, at some side stepping moves, still in the belief that inside that pie shop exterior lies a genius halfback.
The Broncos had set after set of chances, but their biggest weapon Hodges was left so frustrated by the fortress wall he began to slump into that recognisable trap. Running across field, and then further across field, only to end up tangled in the web.
The game was dragging to a predictable outcome with only two real scenarios of interest. Would we reward the begging crowd with a Brett hat tick or would we concentrate on semi final defence drills? The latter was the winner, not so much for the crowd, but certainly for the weeks ahead.
The commentators and journos were lining up that ridiculous repeat question. Are Manly's 2nd half fades an alarming trend? Huh? About as alarming as Usain purring to the finish line in 2nd gear. Grand finals aren't won in Rd 23 folks, but they sure are set up very nicely.
A 16-0 lock out was a just reward for our defensive prowess, but an 80th min final kick was charged down for Alex Glenn to be gifted an undeserved run to the try line. The final swig of the bottle leaving a disappointing sour taste given the extreme importance of for and against points, buy by no means enough to wipe away the flavour of a really excellent 2012 final Brookie performance.
Manly 16 Broncos 6. Some will say the winless Broncos didn't have much, but good sides do that to you. Just one more win to lock up a brilliantly top 4 finish. Nice one Toov's.
Brett Stewart: Another two pearler tries with the engine purring all night, and almost goes without saying, solid as rock at the back. Fantastic.
Jorge Taufau: Plenty of metres and always a danger down the left.
Steve Matai: Never a question on his performances, but always a fear on how he finishes, this time hobbling through much of the 2nd half on a bruised knee.
Jamie Lyon: Man of the match like performance as always.
Dean Whare: Seemed a bit quiet but in fairness not a lot of opportunities.
Keiran Foran: How good is his form at the pointy end of the season? Sensational. Look out semis.
Daly Cherry-Evans: Maestro performance.
Glenn Stewart: Mistake free tough as nails terror in attack and defence.
Tony Williams: The sleeping giant once again terrorising the first half, only to take a few snoozes in the 2nd. Interesting stat: zero offloads. Bored or just conserving?
Anthony Watmough: Whale of a game. 19 hit ups, 132 metres, 31 tackles, 6 offloads, 1 error. No wonder Toovs handed a 10 minute early mark reward.
Darcy Lussick: A rare starting opportunity delivering some strong hit ups.
Matt Ballin: Was it just me or could you feel Matty just holding back a bit due to the injury? Of course none of which prevented another 39 tackles.
Brent Kite: Playing like every game could be his last, another great performance with 15 hits ups, 135 metres and 26 crunching tackles.
Jamie Buhrer: Knocked out cold just 5 days ago meant he should not have been out there, but another sparkling display with some brilliant dummy half bursts. What an asset.
Joe Guluvao: Just 20 minutes was more than likely a signal of the old warrior still recovering from last Sunday. No problem with that.
George Rose: The worlds biggest would be half back delighting with some freaky side steps. Love ya Georgie.
Vic Mauro: Another no frills effort well done Vic.
A first half engine roar followed by a safe as houses 2nd half fortress. Sure a 32 point win would have been great, but as Usain knows it's all about pacing yourself. A lovely way to end the Brookie season.
Ok not a big point, but fellas when our lovely hard working cheer girls and on top of that special guests line the tunnel of honour for you to run out, can we please make sure EVERY player runs down that tunnel? Why do the last 4-5 always lazily ignore it and walk out to the side leaving the honour guard cold?
The sinking feeling I get climbing down the Jane Try steps and walking out of the ground in disbelief we won't be back until next March. Seriously how fast did that season go?
A really safe, solid, dependable wrapping up of yet another critical 2 points in our final steps towards top 4 security. Congratulations to Toovs, the boys and everyone for another stellar season at Brookie. Bring on the Titans.