MANLY march on, and the Broncos might just bow out. The Sea Eagles resembled Usain Bolt easing off in the final 40 metres, knowing he had started quickly and killed off his opponents in the opening strides.
Last night, the Sea Eagles eased off in the final 40 minutes. They had done their job with a quick start and a 16-0 half-time lead. Their inability to ram home the advantage will be cause for some concern for coach Geoff Toovey, but they will still be comforted by the fact they play their best football when they need to. The finishing touches should come, and will need to, in the finals.
As for the Broncos, it is becoming more likely they won't even be in the finals. Brisbane's fall has been as alarming for themselves as Manly's rise has been alarming for others. The Broncos face missing the finals for the second time in three years, a bitter pill to swallow for a team that demands success as they do. In 2010, they were missing for the first time since 1991.
By the end of the round, the Broncos are likely to be out of the top eight. Canberra's win against the Bulldogs last night took them into the play-off positions at the expense of Wests Tigers, who play Sydney Roosters tomorrow.
In fact, the Broncos could be out of the eight tonight, with Gold Coast and Newcastle, who have inferior for-and-against records, both playing. Remarkably, the Broncos could be in 11th place by the end of the weekend, should results go against them.
Manly played like a team that were going into the match on the back of four straight wins, while Brisbane played like one that had lost five in a row. The form guide was accurate, despite the Broncos having improved in recent efforts against the top two teams, the Bulldogs and Melbourne. They might be the top two on the ladder, but the Sea Eagles are looking more ominous than they have at any stage this year. The Broncos had everything to play for yet the Sea Eagles made life tough from the start.
In the early stages, second-rower Tony Williams twice went close, prevented from scoring only by some last-ditch Brisbane defence. The Sea Eagles kept hammering away, and after a while, the defence evaporated.
Centre Jamie Lyon broke through after 17 minutes, brushing off a poor attempted tackle by halfback Peter Wallace. Just three minutes later, five-eighth Kieran Foran's cheeky kick found fullback Brett Stewart, who scored his first. In the 28th minute, just after half Daly Cherry-Evans's 40-20, he scored again; sent over this time by Lyon's inside ball.
The Sea Eagles were ruthless. They hardly allowed the Broncos any time and space, and frustrated them into making mistakes. When they made their way into their opponents' quarter, they scored with regularity. Their premiership defence has some strong defence at its core. But also some wonderful attacking players who are hitting the finals in top form; Lyon, Cherry-Evans, Glenn Stewart and his brother. Williams had been struggling for match fitness but is building into the weapon the Sea Eagles will require against the best sides, an X-factor in an XXL jersey. He set his radar to Brisbane five-eighth Ben Hunt, and put him on his backside several times.
The Broncos came to Sydney early but it clearly didn't help them ready themselves for a clash with the premiers on their home soil. They threw more at the Sea Eagles in the second half, but their endeavour went unrewarded until Alex Glenn pounced on a loose ball after the siren.