Manly brushed aside talk of further player discontent to beat St George Illawarra 21-12 at Jubilee Oval on Monday night.
Sea Eagles outclass Dragons
Manly fly straight to the top of the ladder after defeating the St George-Illawarra Dragons 21-12 at Jubilee Oval on Monday night.
The Sea Eagles surged to the top of the competition ladder as reports emerged that Anthony Watmough and Brett Stewart had joined teammate Steve Matai in requesting a release from the club as the fallout from Glenn Stewart’s end-of-season departure continues.
Manly have already rejected Matai’s plea to join the Warriors on a four-year, $2.5 million deal. Now the club is set to face further adversity, with two of its best players wanting out. Fairfax Media understands that the players are yet to formally request a release. However, it is understood club officials are aware of the players’ concerns.
It is unlikely that any of the three players will receive a favourable answer given most clubs have filled their rosters for next year, denying Manly the opportunity to replace them. Watmough is contracted until the end of next year while Stewart is signed until 2016. Both are managed by George Mimis.
Stewart’s brother Glenn – who will join South Sydney – wasn’t offered a new contract, which has caused the unrest from some of the club’s longest serving players. Manly have since re-signed back-rowers Jamie Buhrer and Jesse Sene-Lefao following Stewart’s departure. Halfback Daly Cherry-Evans is off-contract at the end of next year and could command about $1m on the open market. A decision on their future is expected to be made by coach Geoff Toovey.
Despite their off-field woes, Manly continued to put the adversity behind the,m scoring four tries to two to beat St George Illawarra.
The loss leaves the Paul McGregor coached Dragons two points outside the eight. McGregor is coaching for his long-term future, with the former St George Illawarra captain the favourite to be appointed the club’s long-term coach following Wayne Bennett’s decision to re-join Brisbane next year.
Stewart and Matai were instrumental early before Matai left the field late in the first half with a knee injury, but the centre returned in the second half, having scored the opening try of the game. Stewart laid on Matai’s first, as the Dragons right hand defensive edge of Josh Dugan and Benji Marshall struggled to contain a rampant Manly side. Manly would focus their attack on their left hand side of the field for the bulk of the game.
The Sea Eagles crossed again through Kieran Foran to open up a 10-2 lead after 23 minutes, before a video referee obstruction call denied them of another try. Marshall celebrated his first four-pointer as a Dragon in the 37th minute to have the home side trailing by two at half-time. The Dragons went close to opening the scoring in the second half when a lunging Jorge Taufua hit the ball out of a diving Jason Nightingale’s reach over the try-line as he tried to capture a Dugan grubber.
A cut out pass from Cherry-Evans laid on a try for Tom Symonds before Stewart exposed the Dragons’ right side defensive edge again to help Taufua extend their lead to 12.
The Dragons were camped in Manly’s half but struggled to make a dent. Eventually Nightingale scored a try late in the game.