Bulldogs 10 Sea Eagles 12

GEtting tough ... Steve Matai of the Eagles attempts to tackle Ben Barba.

Getting tough ... Steve Matai of the Eagles attempts to tackle Ben Barba. Photo: Getty Images

A MORAL victory for Manly, perhaps, as well as a morale-boosting one. Time and again this season, many have pondered how much of their success has come through Des Hasler's coaching. It's a question which will probably not be answered for some time yet but, in beating Hasler's new team last night, Geoff Toovey's Manly team have proved a point.

MATCH STATS

The Sea Eagles didn't even need five-eighth Kieran Foran to do so. Foran, whose shadow loomed over this match as much as Hasler's did as he wrestled over a decision which is now made, was left to watch on from the sidelines as his team won without him. That they could win without Hasler and Foran was a big step.

On the attack ... Matt Ballin of the Eagles offloads.

On the attack ... Matt Ballin of the Eagles offloads. Photo: Getty Images

We have seen Wayne Bennett's Newcastle fail twice this season against the coach's old club - St George Illawarra - and now Hasler has failed to topple his ex-players. Yes, Hasler knows much about his former players, but ditto them of him. This turned into more of a battle of hits than one of wits; their were some belters. It was tough and it was willing. The player who looked the most likely to break it open was fullback Ben Barba, but the Sea Eagles ultimately prevented him from doing too much damage.

The crowd of 24,743 was a modest one and it was clear that, as feared, many Manly fans had stayed at home rather than voice their disapproval at their former coach. The match deserved a better turn-out. Hasler looked rather comfortable, or as comfortable as Hasler gets, prior to the match, as he completed a pre-match interview with the broadcaster, during which he acknowledged a ''helluva build-up''.

Toovey, meanwhile, needed a security guard to point him in the direction of the coach's box prior to kick-off, highlighting his inexperience. His players suffered from similar confusion. Toovey found his seat just in time to see Jorge Taufua drop said kick-off.

Jorge Taufua of the Eagles takes a high ball.

Jorge Taufua of the Eagles takes a high ball. Photo: Getty Images

The Bulldogs couldn't capitalise immediately on their opponent's early gift but it didn't take them long; Barba showed speed, footwork and guile to score Hasler's first points as a coach against Manly when he fended off Steve Matai and dummied and shimmied past Brett Stewart to score.

Manly eventually arrived at the party, although there were many who thought their dress was inappropriate. The camouflage jerseys for the occasion might have been fodder for jokes about going missing, but it also highlighted the new-look feel. Not just the fact that Foran wasn't playing, but the Sea Eagles were still welcoming back a handy player in Glenn Stewart, who has been missing himself since round one.

Stewart, in fact, almost scored the Sea Eagles' first try. Only a slight knock-on by centre Jamie Lyon in the lead-up denied the back-rower from making a swift impact on his side. That said, it was clear that Stewart gave the Sea Eagles an extra point of attack on the right edge, and he was worrying the Bulldogs.

The Sea Eagles grew into the contest, and on the stroke of half-time, they clawed back half of the deficit, through a Lyon penalty goal. They weren't quite themselves, but they were still quite capable.

Not only was Stewart playing his first game since round one, but his brother Brett was also returning after a less significant break. The fullback is just as valuable to the Sea Eagles, and he showed that just after the break, when he showed strength to score Manly's first try.

The Bulldogs looked to have edged in front when, in the 69th minute, Lyon - switched to the wing in the absence of the injured David Williams - attempted to shepherd the ball dead-in goal, but watched in horror as Bulldogs winger Bryson Goodwin swooped. Video referee Phil Cooley, though, disallowed it. There wasn't much in it. There wasn't all night.

Matai put Manly out by eight before Goodwin made it a two-point match minutes later to set up a thrilling finish, but it was Toovey celebrating this time.

MANLY 12 (S Matai B Stewart tries J Lyon 2 goals) bt BULLDOGS 10 (B Barba B Goodwin tries B Goodwin goal) at ANZ Stadium. Referee: Shayne Hayne, Brett Suttor. Crowd: 24,743.