The visiting Manly Sea Eagles came to Melbourne looking to find their mojo again after a couple of average weeks. Unfortunately, they ran into a Storm side that ended up causing all kinds of devastation whilst celebrating their skipper’s 350th NRL game in style.
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Can Anyone Stop The Storm?
After a less than Storm-like opening to the game, coach Craig Bellamy would have been much happier about things in the second half (not that you would be able to tell from looking at him). The first 10 minutes of the game was especially sloppy with some basic handling errors ending Melbourne’s sets prematurely, and more often than not, in an attacking position. The Manly attack was unable to take advantage of the early opportunities and allowed the Storm to slowly get their cohesion back without any scoreboard pressure. In fact, if it wasn’t for a misread in defence on their own line, the Storm may well have kept the Sea Eagles try-less.
A big reason why the Storm attacking machine got into gear may well have been the reason they sputtered to begin with. Namely, Cameron Smith got them going and it may well have been Cameron Smith’s milestone for their erratic start. Kevin Walters may have been the unwitting catalyst for Smith’s recent good form. He asked him to run out of dummy half more often in the deciding Origin game and the result was an emphatic one. He has continued this mindset back at the Storm and he was the puppet master in this game. Smith had Manly at his mercy all afternoon and his teammates merely enjoyed the ride. When Smith decided to take control, the Sea Eagles could do little to stop him. If this kind of form continues, who will be able to stop Melbourne from running away with the Premiership?
Manly’s Defence on Holiday
If you want to get an idea on where the Manly defence is at the moment, all you need to do is look at how the first try against them came about. Cameron Smith strolled out of dummy half when only ten metres from the Sea Eagles try line. He jinked, dummied and eventually slipped an inside ball to rookie Jahrome Hughes, who looked up and saw open space in front of him. Where was the inside defence? Where was the desperation on their line? In short, where was the determined Manly defence that had helped them stay in the Top 8 this season?
As this game wore on, we saw less and less of the Manly defence. Just like last week in Wollongong, this facet of their game, which had received plenty of plaudits earlier in the season, was missing in action. The Sea Eagles have now allowed a total of 92 points in their last two games. In comparison with the Storm, it took them their last six matches to allow that many points. And that includes their difficult Origin period.
The players have proven that they can do the job, but for whatever reason, their intensity and energy in defence has disappeared. They need to find it in a hurry. Otherwise they will be making up the numbers in September. If they get there.
Could Manly Miss The Finals?
The NRL can be a very tight competition. Especially when it comes to securing a finals spot when the run home is in full swing. Unfortunately for the Manly Sea Eagles, they are finding out just how quickly things can turn. Just two weeks ago, they were sitting pretty in third position. Now? Now they are barely hanging onto their finals aspirations after freefalling to seventh.
Two weeks ago, when you glanced at their run home, there was a lot more confidence in them to do the job. That confidence is no longer there. After facing the Roosters next week, they could potentially dropout of the eight. They have maintained a position inside the Top 8 since Round 8 and have been impressive during this time. However, in the last two weeks, things have gone terribly wrong. Their attack has gone off the boil. Their dominance in the middle third of the field has disappeared. But the most disappointing factor is that they have lost their intensity in defence. They say defence is all about attitude. If Trent Barrett can’t find a way to reinvigorate his players and turn their attitude around, their promising season will end with a whimper.
400 Games More Than Possible
Love him or loathe him, you can’t deny what Cameron Smith has achieved in the game of rugby league. By the look of it, he isn’t finished just yet. Not by a long shot.
Smith became only the third player in NRL history to crack the 350-game barrier equalling Bulldogs legend Terry Lamb and is only five games away from Broncos champion Darren Lockyer. After seeing Smith destroy the hearts and minds of the Manly players today, you get the feeling that Locky will be left in Smith’s wake.
The age barrier isn’t what is used to be. We are seeing more and more players continue to play competitive sport well into their 30’s. Smith may well be 34 but if the mind and the body are still willing, why not? The NFL’s Tom Brady is preparing for his 18th season playing the most important position on the field at the ripe old age of 40. Chances are, he will be as good as he has ever been again this season. Like Brady, Smith is aging like a fine wine. He just seems to get better year after year.
And you know what? Injury permitting, 400 games might not be enough for him.
Tries: Hughes (16m), Vunivalu (38m), Stimson (47m), Bromwich (55m), Chambers (70m), Cronk (73m), Addo-Carr (80m)
Goals: Smith 6/8
Sea Eagles: 6
Tries: Wright (30m)
Goals: Wright 1/2