Rugby League


Sea Eagles take flight but Roosters stay grounded

Des Hasler, when he was running the show on the northern beaches, famously loved to ''fly under the radar''. Inadvertently, it is something the Sea Eagles have been able to do for much of this campaign but the luxury of inconspicuousness will not be theirs for long.


Things are steadily falling into place for the premiers and while Geoff Toovey will no doubt adopt the Hasler mantra in an effort to put a lid on expectations, the feeling is inescapable that they will be there again when the whips are cracking.

In carving up the Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium, Manly have crept their way from the fringes of the top eight to the middle of the presumably finals-bound pack.

There was nothing subtle about a 52-14 hammering of the Roosters but the key for the reigning champions is not in yesterday's scoreline. They were always expected to be too strong for a Roosters side that can on occasion be very good but, a blink of the eye later, very poor. It is the names in the program yesterday that makes them the team to watch when thinking of September. If Manly have been hot and cold at stages in their competition defence there had been justifiable reasons. A succession of injuries and suspensions to top players meant they could never put anything resembling their best line-up on the field to date.

Even yesterday there was a couple of notable absentees - injured NSW back-rower Glenn Stewart and former representative winger David Williams - but they were not far from being at full strength. The result was a clinical display that, save for a brief Roosters resurgence either side of half-time led by 18-year-old Tautau Moga, left the hosts blown away.


There were ominous signs from the outset as Brian Smith's team went behind 12-0 inside 10 minutes, then 24-0 at the half-hour. The tone of the afternoon was set less than four minutes after kick-off when giant Tony Williams tossed Mitchell Pearce backwards like a rag doll.

Because of a back injury, the 118 kilogram forward was not expected to play a couple of days ago - hence the No.22 he wore - but instead of being used with caution by Toovey he played a full 80 minutes, toying with opponents repeatedly to leave a watching Ricky Stuart thoroughly satisfied. He was later named man of the match, although that gong could have gone to several of the excellent visitors.

Williams had not appeared for Manly since round three and as Toovey answered questions about the 23-year-old's State of Origin selection last night, you could tell that he would prefer not to be waving goodbye one of his most prized assets just as he finally got him back. ''We need to get some use out of him,'' the coach said. '' … He's a strike weapon for us and I think we saw that today.''

Pearce could attest to that. That ruthless early palm-off on his NSW teammate led to a try and Williams set up another when he channelled fellow man mountain Dave Taylor with an audacious last-tackle chip over the top that happened to lob into the path of a chasing Steve Matai, himself just back from suspension. It was a trend maintained most of the day: the bounce of the ball seemed to go Manly's way, as it often does with the really good teams.

There was a heck of a lot more to it than sheer luck. When the Roosters conceded a try to Dean Whare, having clawed their way back to 24-14 with 30 minutes to go, the floodgates opened. Captain Jamie Lyon finished with 24 points and Origin-bound Anthony Watmough was given a deserved rest after a destructive performance in which he scored a try and then, as if blown out of a canon, laid on another.

The message for Manly's rivals is patently clear. Look out.

MANLY 52 (J Lyon 2, J Buhrer, D Cherry-Evans, S Matai, B Stewart, J Taufua, A Watmough, D Whare tries; J Lyon 8 goals) bt SYDNEY ROOSTERS 14 (T Moga, S Perrett, T Symonds tries; B Anasta goal) at Allianz Stadium. Referees: Shayne Hayne, Steve Lyons. Crowd: 13,531.