Shannon Meyer reviews an action packed game on the Central Coast which saw a 12 man Manly side fight bravely for over 70 minutes but South Sydney eventually wore them down to win.
South Sydney Rabbitohs 40
Tries: Keaon Koloamatangi (27), Alex Johnston (32), Isaiah Tass (39), Tom Burgess (46), Cody Walker (50), Cameron Murray (70), Blake Taaffe (79)
Goals: Blake Taaffe 6 (9 – pen, 28, 40, 48, 51, 71)
MATCH REPORTEmbed from Getty Images
The rugby league-mad Central Coast got their first taste of rugby league for 2022, and a decent crowd were on hand to see if Souths could stretch their winning streak over Manly to six, and give Cody Walker another reason to celebrate in his milestone 150th game.
There was no warming up period for the game with plenty happening from the opening kick-off. South Sydney kicked the ball too long and before a tackle had been made Manly were on Souths’ 20 metre line. And after Josh Mansour had spoiled a first Manly attacking raid with a knock down it looked like he had done it again, but interestingly the referee called play on and Mansour ran another 50 metres. That attacking set fizzed out, but not before put a massive hit on Walker.
The game settled down after the first frantic minutes, with a preview into how the kicking games were going to be all important, and Manly’s Daly Cherry-Evans being one of the best in the competition.
But what would probably be the biggest moment of the game came in the eighth minute as Karl Lawton put in a dangerous throw tackle on Souths captain Cameron Murray and was sent from the field. It looked a bad one on first glance, and subsequent looks made it look even worse. Perhaps a few seasons ago it wouldn’t be a send off, but after the 2021 Magic Round crackdown Lawton’s send off was no surprise. Murray for the record was ok afterwards, but got lucky landing on his shoulder.Embed from Getty Images
South Sydney’s Blake Taaffe landed the easy penalty goal from 10 metres in front; the Rabbitohs were 2-0 and one player up for the next 70 minutes.
Against the odds Manly took the lead with the game’s first try in the 15th minute, with Kieran Foran fighting his way from 10 metres out and through three Rabbitohs defenders to find the tryline. It wasn’t without doubt though, after boos from the crowd and protests from the Rabbitohs players via the big screen at the ground the referee sent it upstairs. The video referee who wasn’t able to prove the ball was or wasn’t grounded, so the original ‘Try’ decision remained. The conversion was missed and Manly were ahead 4-2.Embed from Getty Images
The extra man was seemingly no hinderance to Manly, as they scored a second try after a set that looked like it was going nowhere. A pinpoint kick from Cherry-Evans found the perfect target in Jason Saab, who snatched the ball from the Rabbitohs and got the ball down just inside the touch line despite the best attention of Alex Johnston, who was trying to make up for not taking the kick. The sideline conversion gave Manly an increasingly surprising 10-2 lead.
Souths were looking frustrated to be behind, and were poor in attack and making basic errors. Manly for their part were playing excellent, tough rugby league.
They were rewarded in the 25th minute when Campbell Graham made an uncharacteristic error on his line, but Manly’s attack ended with a pass over the sideline. But the Sea Eagles were well on top.
South Sydney were gifted ball and territory with a penalty and a failed intercept attempt, and they scored their first of the night when Keaon Koloamatangi crashed over from close to the line after a short Siliva Havili pass. Taaffe made the easy conversion and Souths were within two points with 10 minutes until half-time.
Other than an extra man due to the send off, another South Sydney advantage was having one of rugby league’s best finishers on the wing. Johnston had to do a little more work than usual, but his slicing, weaving run through the Manly defence from 20 metres out was Johnston at his best, making it look so easy. The ball to Johnston came through the hands of their spine and stars – Damien Cook, Murray, Lachlan Ilias, and Walker. A rare conversion miss by Taaffe saw the score remain 12-10.
The Sea Eagles also had an advantage in the kicking game of Cherry-Evans, and he proved his worth with a superb 40-20 kick that gave the Sea Eagles great ball and territory. A few plays later Manly sent the ball left, and it eventually found the skillful Josh Schuster who hit and spun out of a tackle, then lobbed a Gene Miles-style basketball pass over the top of a Souths defender to Christian Tuipulotu who jinked inside to score. The Reuben Garrick conversion made it 16-12 with a few minutes to half-time.
But this action-packed half still had more to offer, as Manly’s Martin Taupau provided a poor offload giving Souths a scrum with 55 seconds to go, 40 metres from the line. It took the Rabbitohs a few tackles and trips from side to side, but they managed to cross the line to the left through Isaiah Tass who scored a second try in his second game: the lead up passing coming through the same combination as the Johnston try, Walker getting his second try assist, as he looked arguably the best he had all season. The conversion gave South Sydney a possibly unfair 18-16 lead.
HALF-TIME: South Sydney Rabbitohs 18 Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 16Embed from Getty Images
It was a quieter start to the second half than the end of the first, but even in the early stages of the second half Manly were starting to tire, understandably. They were punished on the scoreboard in the seventh minute when Souths prop Tom Burgess charged through and dragged a number of Manly defenders from 10 metres to the line in a play that previously looked like it was going nowhere. An easy conversion for Taaffe saw the lead extend to eight points.
Some interesting player movements after that try came in the form of Brad Parker (aka Hank Scorpio) who left the field with injury, replaced by Ben Trbojevic. Keeping within the brother theme Latrell Mitchell’s brother Shaq entered the field at the same time.
Not long after that Walker scored a try in the corner, celebrating in style for his milestone game. He actually was involved in the lead up, throwing a bullet cut-out pass to Tass on the left, who juggled and fumbled the ball backwards between a Manly defender’s legs, and it rolled to Walker who zoomed around the back and dived into the corner. Taaffe slotted the sideline conversion to make the score 30-16 and give the Rabbitohs a lead Manly were unlikely able to pin back with 12 players.Embed from Getty Images
Before South Sydney could dominate the game too much Manly had narrowed the gap with a penalty try to Cherry-Evans. A Foran grubber split two South Sydney defenders close to the line, and the Manly halfback was leading the chase as the ball slowly rolled across the in goal. Cherry-Evans didn’t actually ground the ball, but Cook was found to have held back the arm of Cherry-Evans which was enough for the video referee to award a penalty try. The play was set up with a big hit from Sean Keppie which forced a Rabbitohs error. The conversion from infront made it 30-22 and gave Manly a spring in their step.
That spring remained as Manly were given multiple sets on South Sydney’s line, at least four back-to-back. This attacking run ended with a too-powerful grubber from Manly’s Dylan Walker, but the Sea Eagles were right in the contest despite being a player down.
Cruelly though, South Sydney denied Manly a comeback with another try not long after. After setting up to look like they were going to the right, Murray simply stepped off his right from 10 metres out to score under the posts untouched. Taaffe added the extra two points and the Rabbitohs were 14 points ahead.
The Rabbitohs signed off for the night with one final try, this one scored by Taaffe but set up by the very underrated Graham who charged into and through the Manly defence after scooping up a loose pass from his teammates. The siren sounded and the missed conversion didn’t matter except for Taaffe’s pride, and the Rabbitohs were 40-22 winners.
It was a good win for South Sydney, helped by having a player advantage for most of the contest, but Walker looked in good form for a change in 2022, and they were more error- and penalty-free than previous weeks. The win saw them overtake Manly and their rival Roosters and gain temporary membership into the top eight.
While the result didn’t go Manly’s way, and it was going to be hard after playing with 12 players for most of the game, their performance was brave – led by their experienced players Foran, Cherry-Evans, and Jake Trbojevic. Schuster also gave a glimpse of good times ahead for Manly with his involvement.
FULL-TIME: South Sydney Rabbitohs 40 Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 22
PLAYER OF THE YEAR POINTSEmbed from Getty Images
3 pts – Cody Walker (Rabbitohs), 2 pts – Kieran Foran (Sea Eagles), 1 pt – Daly Cherry-Evans (Sea Eagles)
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