Manly 20 St George Illawarra 8
Manly go on the attack against the Dragons. Photo: Brendan Esposito
WHETHER Jamie Lyon should or shouldn't play State of Origin is irrelevant, given the fact that he clearly won't. Yet there is no doubt that he could - and that NSW's loss is Manly's gain.
While the Blues look for answers over this weekend, Lyon's deft touch last night gave the Sea Eagles the two points in a rather dour affair. Winger Michael Oldfield had a night to remember, scoring a hat-trick (two tries came from the brilliance of Lyon). The Sea Eagles were a right-handed team; the combination of Lyon, Oldfield and back-rower Glenn Stewart did most of the damage while the side's defence limited it at the other end.
Ben Creagh tries to break through the Manly defence. Photo: Brendan Esposito
The match featured the past two grand final winners, yet it failed to reach any great heights. It's difficult to see the Dragons winning the competition again this year, but it would be dangerous to write the Sea Eagles off just yet.
The differing philosophies of the two sides had given the Sea Eagles the edge at the half-time break. The Dragons pride themselves on their ''structures'' and ''processes''. Those processes, no doubt, led them to opt for a shot at goal after seven minutes, when they were given a penalty while on the attack.
Jamie Soward converted, but it was the only occasion the five-eighth's left boot gave the Dragons the upper hand in the first half. On the other hand, or foot, Sea Eagles halfback Daly Cherry-Evans's kicking game, especially in attack, was superb. First he pinned Dragons winger Daniel Vidot in-goal with a high and accurate bomb, then he forced fullback Brett Morris with another.
Anthony Watmough on the attack for Manly. Photo: Brendan Esposito
Not long after the former, the Sea Eagles were awarded a penalty from a similar spot which handed the Dragons the first points. The Sea Eagles, though, backed themselves, and centre Lyon showed the value of that by deftly kicking for his winger, Oldfield.
The Sea Eagles were rarely troubled in the first half, even if their attack wasn't quite humming as they would have liked. Vidot leapt well to catch a Soward bomb but was held up by a desperate Manly scramble, which included the returning five-eighth Kieran Foran.
The Dragons were still in it, and they would have been still optimistic at half-time, having only conceded the one try. That confidence was eroded early in the second half when Lyon set about letting his hands do the talking; his soft touch gave Oldfield his second try. Glenn Stewart provided the work inside Lyon, and should be credited for the effort.
Sea Eagles conquer Dragons
Dragons fans. Photo: Brendan Esposito
The Dragons at least found time to make a game of it. Fullback Brett Morris's gallop down-field set the play up, interchange hooker Nathan Fien almost scored, then Vidot did.
Oldfield all but finished it off, this time from Brett Stewart's assist with just five minutes remaining. Then Darcy Lussick barged through to seal it. The Sea Eagles left it late to do that, but were rarely not in charge.
Other than those glimpses of brilliance, defence was king. Both sides, certainly, tackled with vigour, yet their mostly stuttering attack will have both coaches looking forward to a bye next week.
Above all else both sides looked tired. The rest will be appreciated by most, yet a number of players will be involved in Origin II. There were certainties as well as potentials on display last night. Of them, Sea Eagles second-rower Anthony Watmough made some errors, as did Dragon Beau Scott.
Jamie Buhrer, who only played seven minutes in game one, suffered a back strain in the second half.
Blues coach Ricky Stuart still has some decisions to make. He no doubt wishes he had one more though; whether to select the wily Lyon, who can still play like the best of them.
MANLY 20 (M Oldfield 3 D Lussick tries J Lyon 2 goals) bt ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 8 (D Vidot try J Soward 2 goals) at Brookvale Oval. Referee: Tony Archer, Chris James. Crowd: 11,855.