On the day that NSW potentially lost their hooker Robbie Farah, the Blues received a much needed boost after Jorge Taufua made an outstanding return to the field and put his hand up for the Blues vacant wing spot as he scored a try in Manly’s 24-4 win against Cronulla.
Taufua, 22, hadn’t played since dislocating his shoulder in a pre-season match but celebrated his return with a blistering performance. At half-time, he had made 116 metres from four carries – with Andrew Fifita Cronulla’s best with 45 metres from five hit-ups. Taufua, who is close to finalising a three-year extension at the club, finished with a game high of 126 metres and three tackle breaks.
“After a few more games building my confidence at club level,” Taufua said of his Origin chances. “If my form is good enough I think I’ll be confident if I got the call up.
“I would love to put on a Blues jersey. Second half I was down on myself. There were a lot of opportunities to put on points but too many errors.”
With Jarryd Hayne likely to play fullback or in the centres, Taufua joins Akuila Uate and James McManus in a battle to partner incumbent Brett Morris on the Blues' flank. His return relegated former Blues winger David Williams to NSW Cup with Peta Hiku retaining his spot in the top grade, switching to the right wing.
One blemish on Taufua’s performance was being run down by Cronulla prop Sam Tagataese after running 60 metres after taking an intercept on his goal line.
“He is pretty quick but there is no excuse,” Taufua said. “I have to work on some speed. [Anthony Watmough] won’t let it go. I don’t know if he’ll ever get over it.”
Brett Stewart did his chances of an Origin recall no harm after setting up three tries in his best performance of the season.
While Manly’s back three were outstanding, it was a match to forget for potential NSW half Todd Carney. Sporting a bleached buzz cut, Carney failed to find his rhythm behind a dominated forward pack, with multiple forward passes, an erratic kicking game evoking memories of Andrew Johns’ short-lived orange hairstyle.
A week after being ambushed by a ferocious Wests Tigers forward pack, the Sea Eagles big men ensured that wouldn’t be repeated in front of 9064 people at Brookvale Oval. Manly’s wingers combined instantly with Hiku defusing a bomb before passing to Taufua, who raced up the field and handed a pass to Steve Matai to allow the centre to open the scoring after three minutes.
Manly coach Geoff Toovey was encouraged by Taufua’s performance.
“It was a good confidence booster for him,” Toovey said. “Jorge and David [Williams] were top try-scorers last year. David had been going OK for us. Hiku had been playing really well, and I have him to cover as fullback with Brett’s injury.”
Manly raced to a 12-0 lead after 15 minutes. Two nearly identical sweeping plays with a block runner fooled Cronulla’s defence, resulting in tries to Taufua and Matai for the home side to give Manly a 20-0 lead at half-time.
“It was a really good turnaround defensively with our energy this week,’ Toovey said. “It was a big change from last week.”
A Carney forward pass helped end the second half stalemate with the Sea Eagles scoring from the next set when Hiku crossed in the corner in the 54th minute to extend Manly’s lead by four. The Sea Eagles second half was patchy with 12 errors – eight more than their first half
“Todd wasn’t quite at his best,” Cronulla coach Peter Sharp said. “He needed some help but we didn’t give him that.”
Wade Graham scored Cronulla’s only try in the dying stages of the game.