Another tough away trip and a vital top 4 spot to claim, but could we stop the Thurston/Bowen express train?
We landed in Townsville with a top 4 purpose and it only took a few sets to see this night was going to be built on defence. Rock solid brutal defence.
I don't know what it is but in many games it seems we looked unsettled in the opening period, at times even somewhat unsure, but not tonight. We were playing with purpose and it looked great. Big tackles were making an immediate impact and the stage was set for our pack to dominate. With Kingy out Lussick got the starting chance many have wanted to see. Does this kid really have something? More on that to follow.
Grinding towards the Cowboys line Foran continued his deadly Perth kicking game with a perfectly waited grubber and the unlikely benefactor was big T Rex invading the Cowboys in goal for the try. The only question was whether the giant had successfully mashed the ball to the turf, but the world's most annoying ex cop/video ref, Steve "I'll find a problem with everything" Clark decided to make 36 forensic checks on a possible obstruction. A 9 year old video ref would only have needed one replay to see Glenn Hall took a bigger dive than the entire Italian World Cup team, but somehow Clark inexplicably decided Watmough had made some sort of invisible contact and was guilty.
Simply put, one of the worst decisions of the year. How these guys (and in particular Clark) have a job is just mind boggling. Watmough looked over at ex team mate Hall and made it very clear he'd be looking for him. In the past that might have meant judiciary foolishness, but the 2012 Watmough model is a much calmer and smarter one, and the intent was purely legal footy retribution.
The half had become a heavy weight arm wrestle with the scoreboard still blank 25 mins in, but just when they least suspected it, the Cowboys looked up in horror when a scrum 15 metres out saw magic man Foran take a giant step off his left foot past a helplessly sprawled Dallas Johnson to tear through for the opening try. Pure footy class and a delight to watch.
With 6 points in the bag we blocked out the rest of the half with an unbreakable defensive attitude, Thurston trying everything to set Bowen alight but to no avail.
The Cowboys knew they had to come out with something different and it was more than obvious they were moving the ball as much as possible with offloads high on the agenda. In fact as many of them as possible. Could we resist this attack?
We were now on high alert as Thurston amped up the conductor batten, probing teasing and testing the timing to unleash the Bowen weapon. Tackles misses were starting to mount and with them the pressure of penalties. It felt like any time, in fact any second, the little fullback might slice us open, but still we resisted, several times staving off heart attack situations with fortress determination. This was great stuff.
Unable to break us with his speed Bowen hoisted a massive bomb in the 52nd minute arcing it out to our right wing. Wolfman seemed to have it well covered but instead of keeping his eye on the ball he looked at DCE who was acting as blocker. Letting a bomb bounce is a cardinal sin, but Wolfman was so distracted it bounced off his sleeping arm gifting the Cowboys not only possession, but to our collective horror a gift run to the try line. Just like that our defensive work was dented, the game now squarely locked up at 6 all with plenty of time left.
The next 10 minutes would be a test of whether the bomb blast would rock us or strengthen us. Choc led the way with more charging runs and non stop defence, and the rest of the pack followed.
Once again Buhrer was in his new Ballin 2IC role, taking the dummy half reins just before half time and continuing at the top of the second half. Is this a good thing? for mine it's a bit of a confusing scenario. On the one hand Ballins' 80 minute 50 plus tackles had become our season rock, but on the other hand Buhrer's energetic deputising in the last few weeks has given us a fresh injection. I'll go with Toov's on this one, it surely can't be a bad thing to give the 80 min man some sort of breather going into the critical end of the season and we're lucky to have such a versatile head gearing weapon on the bench.
The 2nd half continued the defensive grind, both teams refusing to buckle, but where the Cowboys had looked the stronger in the first 20 minutes we began to get our hands on top of the wheel again. Probing at their try line in the 63rd minute, Brett ran a loop and then hit the pedal to force his way over. Was it a double movement? Had his momentum forced the try? Once again Clark decided that wasn't even a factor as he found yet another obstruction, this time Matai charged with the guilt of blocking Tate. Really? Seriously? Nah don't think so Steve. Ironically had Brett passed to a totally unmarked Taufua a try in the corner might not have come under as intense scrutiny, nonetheless the Cowboys had escaped again.
With the pressure mounting and the penalty toll really pushing us to the limit the tables were turned when the Cows were pinged right in front of the posts. With 13 minutes to go and our attack seemingly on the verge of prizing the match winning try, the obvious play seemed to be take the tap and cement the win. Or at least that's what I would have done, but the smart decision was of course to bag the 2 points and bunker down.
Nobody knew which side might break, but you'd have put your house on points being scored somewhere in the energy sapping last 10 minutes. The minutes ticked down and the pressure continued. Just one try either way would land a killer blow. The Thurston/Bowen combo was searching for all the party tricks, but each and every time we refused to fall for the cards. This was Manly grand final defence and it was great to watch.
The clock hit 78 minutes and the last 2 were a blinding blur of Cowboys desperation, us supporters frozen with the fear of Bowen inflicting the pain he's delivered so many times. But not tonight. The final play was shut down and the siren sounded a truly gutsy win.
The 67th minute penalty had become the royal ace. Manly 8 Cowboys 6.
Brett Stewart: Just his mere presence out there and we suddenly look 50% better. So great to have our hero back.
Jorge Taufau: Looks more like a seasoned first grader every week.
Steve Matai: A first half bell ringer and generally looked great until a heart stopping ankle sprain late in the game. Fingers crossed he's ok.
Jamie Lyon: Amongst so many great attributes Jamie's calmness under pressure and assured football brain is a massive captains asset.
David Williams: One absolute howling mistake resulted in their gift try, but his enthusiasm all night, and let's not forget a super try saving tackle in the 1st half. Catching practice this week Wolfie!
Keiran Foran: Not quite the man of the match from last week but solid as a rock, and when you look back his brilliant individual try was a match winner.
Daly Cherry-Evans: Simply everywhere. Kicked strongly. Whale of a game.
Glenn Stewart: Building his comeback very nicely.
Tony Williams: Couldn't be more confusing. The stats look brilliant, 17 runs 169 metres, so why does he appear to be an amp who can't be bothered to dial up past 5?
Anthony Watmough: Hall must be regretting that dive that only made Choc's 80 minute performance even more determined. 20 runs, 177 metres, 32 tackles. MOM.
Darcy Lussick: His giant starting chance. Did he deliver? The 39 min stats weren't bad, but the crazy high shot should not be the one thing that stood out. Not a performance that said he's going to be missed.
Matt Ballin: Still managed 38 tackles despite a very unusual 56 minutes tonight. I'm going with Toov's this might well be a massive benefit come finals time.
Brent Kite: Another fantastic 59 min performance from the old bull. 14 runs, 111 metres and 35 workaholic tackles.
George Rose: Some pie shop bollocking runs when we needed them. I know it's a only a little thing, but why the switch to the 14 jersey?
Joe Guluvao: That fumbling play the ball error was a head slumped, but a harder more honest worker there's not been, and he made amends for it well.
Jamie Buhrer: Another excellent dummy half cameo. Great asset.
Vic Mauro: I'm not sure what it is but I just never notice him out there. Maybe that's not a bad thing, every team needs a quiet achiever.
The defensive win of the season in very dangerous waters.
On paper the penalty count wasn't great and the tackle misses high, but really very little not to like here.
Matai's ankle. Pray it's ok. And was it just me or was their a tiny question mark over Brett? Did he finsh ok? Hope so.
A really, really gutsy defensive win that gives us a monumental top 4 boost. Congratulations to the whole team and special mention to our little coaching rookie Toov's. 4th place huh, not bad for a rookie many tried to knock down, but Manly tragics know the little master can't be run over.
There's a few teams to hate in the NRL, but none more so than Souths. Let's give them a massive hiding to nothing at Gosford next week and wipe that ugly smirk of their rabbit faces.