Can you hear that? That purring sound building to a roar? That is the finely tuned engine of the Manly Sea Eagles reaching full throttle two weekends out from the semis. The North Shore boys confirmed their status as one of the biggest threats to the ladder-leading Bulldogs with a blistering first half of footy against Newcastle.
Manly was so fast in the opening 40 minutes they gave the Knights windburn, and threatened whiplash to the necks of the Brookvale faithful. They poured on seven first-half tries to lead 38-4 at oranges.
The second half was a completely different issue. After four minutes the home team had no players left on the bench, with Jamie Buhrer and David Williams joining first-half casualties Matt Ballin and Jason King on the sidelines. This meant that big George Rose had to play big minutes, Joe Galuvao and Anthony Watmough (two of the winners' best) had to battle on despite apparent injuries, and the side had to accommodate reshuffling which included Kieran Foran then Daly Cherry-Evans at hooker, Jamie Lyon on a wing and Watmough at centre.
Although outscored 4-16 in the second stanza Manly showed enormous character. They maintained possession for 55 per cent of the match against a Newcastle team that completed only 18 sets. Ironically, after a first 40 in which Manly showcased its speed, the most impressive pace was shown by Kevin Naiqama as he burned along the touchline for the first of a brace of tries. Dane Gagai was again excellent for the Knights, but they did not have enough contributors prepared to dig deep and match the mental toughness of the Sea Eagles.
The highlight in a highly entertaining game was Cherry-Evans' audacious line drop-out with his team under pressure, feigning a long kick then squirting a perfect 10.5m chip regathered by Foran, who blazed more than 50m upfield. September opponents of Manly: you are officially warned that the premiers will not hand back the trophy without a fight.
For each and every action there is an equal and opposite reaction: that's Newton's Third Law. Old Isaac might not have seen a lot of rugby league but even he could pick up that the confidence, momentum and ladder boost the Sharks received from their gutsy Saturday night win was equal in magnitude to the extent of South Sydney's loss of confidence, momentum and security on the ladder. After an indifferent past month, this win showcased the best of the Sharks, led by the irresistible force Paul Gallen. (If Gal rather than the apple dropped on Newton's skull, there would have been no Third Law and no First and Second laws either. When the Bash Brother hits, the hittee stays hit.)
No nudes is good news for players who celebrated round 24 by crossing the stripe for the first time this season. Young props Aiden Tolman and Aaron Woods both dotted down, thus avoiding the dreaded season-end nudie run. Roosters Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Jack Bosden salvaged some dignity from the loss in Canberra, as did Eel Taniela Lasalo against the Titans, while Panther Travis Robinson had an extra reason to enjoy his trip to NZ.
Justin Hodges is a paradox; when he is at his most menacing he seems to move in slow motion. He was back to his best against Storm, beating his man time and again, getting passes away and causing headaches for defenders. He broke 11 tackles, provided six offloads and made three line breaks (more than the rest of the Broncos combined). He may need his eyesight tested, however; the silly duffer confused Storm centre Will Chambers with a canine.
The knock on Shaun Fensom has always been that he is one-dimensional, a robotic tackling machine. Certainly he made a monumental 48 tackles against the Roosters, but he also contributed 177m of offence, a line break, an offload and eight tackle breaks.
While Nathan Hindmarsh has received all the plaudits, Luke Burt gave a fine reminder against the Titans why he will be missed by the Eels, too. He made some of the most incisive runs of the game and was involved in all three of Parramatta's tries.
Rookie Tigers winger Marika Koroibete has attracted plenty of attention in his three top-grade games and scored two good tries against the Dogs, but his most memorable moment was when ankle-tapped with a clear passage to the line. He ran on for another 10 metres, staggered and collapsed. Commentators suggested a sniper could have been involved. Whether the Tigers' season will be similarly shot down remains to be seen over the next fortnight.
The obstruction rule has become a lottery. Tigers fans are entitled to feel aggrieved about the decision in their game against the Bulldogs. However, any self-pity should be tempered by remembering a) the gifting of a win in round one due to referee error and b) four – count 'em – flubbed field goal attempts on Friday night, any one of which would have won the game.
Much has been said about the Sisa Waqa try for the Storm against the Bronx. It was a bad call. On the other hand, congratulations to Brisbane for playing 80 perfect minutes, in which the Storm were not awarded a single penalty.
Gareth Widdop's form is a concern for the Storm, and his defensive efforts in particular have been poor. He missed eight tackles against Brisbane, and too often sprinted out of the line only to be exposed. Meanwhile, Eels half Chris Sandow made three tackles on Sunday arvo – and missed eight.
If you see anyone walking around this week looking disorientated, muttering to themselves, gazing into the distance with a haunted thousand-yard stare – you will know they witnessed the Warriors-Panthers game on Sunday. One of the worst matches anyone could (not) wish to see.
Mini's flying elbow. A Barry Crocker.
What is the green liquid in Cooper Cronk's private water bottle? The halfback is a loyal Cane Toad, but his drink looks like something regurgitated by frogs.
Regular readers will know that this column thinks Ray Hadley is to commentary what Chad Morgan is to dentistry. His poor feel for the role was demonstrated again on Friday night when he spent the opening minute of the Broncos-Storm blockbuster asking Fatty Vautin about his holiday in the USA.
The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.