Manly 18 Sydney Roosters 10
Star quality ... Anthony Watmough. Photo: Brendan Esposito
Brian Smith could have been forgiven for marching into his post-match news conference with steam blasting from the ears of a tomato-coloured face, and going berserk. It might even have been worth shelling out the resulting $10,000 fine for the pleasure.
But he didn't. It didn't mean the most controversial moment of the Sydney Roosters' eight-point loss to Manly - the bizarre disallowing of what would have been Daniel Mortimer's second try inside the final half hour - hurt any less.
Sam Perrett scores for the Sydney Roosters. Photo: Brendan Esposito
Privately, you can bet video referee Pat Reynolds's adjudication - ruling that young Roosters forward Brad Takairangi had used an elbow while offloading to Mortimer - will not be forgotten quickly by the veteran coach. A furious Braith Anasta, his captain, had told one of the on-field whistleblowers: ''I've got to be honest - I've been playing a long time. I've seen that happen about a million times. I don't think it was intentional, I don't think it was aggressive. It happens every game.''
Yet Smith's diplomacy was not just for show. ''I think Manly might have won the game anyway,'' he said. That admission spoke of two prevailing maxims arising from a bruising contest at Brookvale Oval yesterday.
Firstly, that a youthful, promising Roosters side brimming with aggression and ambition are not quite there yet in terms of attention to detail, particularly without the finishing polish that might have been applied by absent representative halfback Mitchell Pearce.
Sea Eagles, Rabbitohs come out on top
All of Sunday's NRL action featuring the St George Illawarra Dragons v South Sydney Rabbitohs at Win Jubilee Oval (Pictures by Steve Christo) and Manly Sea Eagles vs Sydney Roosters at Brookvale Oval (Pictures by Brendan Esposito). Selected Images available from www.fairfaxsyndication.com. Photo: Steve Christo
Secondly, that the Sea Eagles are a force to be reckoned with, even without six of their leading players.
If losing Brett and Glenn Stewart, Tony Williams and Jamie Buhrer to NSW duty was not enough, former Blues winger David Williams pulled out with a hamstring injury before kick-off. Then disaster struck when Kieran Foran, in his first game back from injury, limped off after 15 minutes with a suspected case of the ankle disorder syndesmosis. Jason King, one of Manly's two captains, described the win as ''very special''.
This is a testing time for Geoff Toovey's side. The premiers have rightfully supplied four players to Ricky Stuart's NSW team and must find a way to navigate their way through the State of Origin period without them. Yesterday was a decent blueprint.
Origin outcast Anthony Watmough was enormous. Toovey would not have wanted it this way but Stuart has done Manly a favour by leaving out the second-rower. Back on the edge, after spending most of this year closer to the middle of the field, Watmough had 14 runs for 129 metres, made 34 tackles, five tackle busts and a line break.
He also gave away three penalties and engaged in an ongoing duel with Martin Kennedy. But If Watmough was an angry ant, he could be excused.
The sight of him down on his haunches, struggling for breath, close to full-time showed he could not give any more. ''It was a real professional display I thought,'' King said of his teammate. ''Obviously, he would have been disappointed about missing out on a blue jersey but it was a really good way to bounce back.''
Elsewhere, the electric Dean Whare covered for the absence of one Stewart, and Daniel Harrison stood in as well as could have been asked for another. They will want Foran back as quickly as possible but his brother, Liam, continues to do the job for Toovey. It was Manly's fourth successive win.
The Roosters can walk away with mixed feelings. They owned arguably the moment of the afternoon - outstanding centre BJ Leilua's flick pass that released Anasta and then Mortimer to score - and exhibited desperate defence and a hunger that will make Smith believe they can be semi-finals contenders. Raw and rambunctious they were undone, in part, by a dubious call, but there are loose ends to tie up. Their time will come.
MANLY 18 (D Harrison S Matai M Oldfield tries J Lyon 3 goals) bt SYDNEY ROOSTERS 10 (D Mortimer S Perrett tries B Anasta goal) at Brookvale Oval. Referee: Jared Maxwell, Ashley Klein. Crowd: 12,633.