One-sided: Manly were in cruise control in the second half against Cronulla. Photo: Getty Images
The Sea Eagles versus Cronulla clash at Brookvale Oval can be summed up pretty briefly. The Manly boys were great in the first half and led 20-0 at the break. The Sharks were very ordinary during this period.
In the second half, Manly ran around in cruise control at nothing more than half pace. They finished winning 24-4. The Sharks were again very ordinary during this second-half period.
Stung into action by their huge loss to the Wests Tigers last Sunday, the Sea Eagles opened bristling with energy. The bounce-back factor is always the sign of a committed football team. Manly did not disappoint their fans in this regard.
Their forwards took control of the advantage line in the early exchanges, and the classy Manly back-line players did the rest.
When Manly run their plays out wide there is no better team in the NRL at decimating an opposition defensive line. In the first half, they concentrated most of their serious attacking raids down the left-hand side of the field with great results.
Halves Daly Cherry-Evan and Kieran Foran delivered the ball wide to the edges of the field at exactly the right moments. Fullback Brett Stewart then set up the space for his outside men in centre Steve Matai and winger Jorge Taufua. The Sharks’ right-side defenders had no answer.
In the first 10 minutes of the second half, Manly might have scored another three tries down this left side of the field had Taufua not overrun the passes with poor timing. From that point though, the Manly attacking raids surprisingly switched to the other side of the field. Maybe it was for practice purposes, or perhaps they didn’t want to expose any more of their left-side attacking repertoire, but Manly played the last 30 minutes trying to score points down the right-hand touch line.
They did produce one four-pointer in the process, but to be honest, the quality of their execution deteriorated over the last half-hour of play. Their attention to detail dropped to the level of their opponents, and they were guilty of some very untidy errors. In the end, the Sea Eagles completed only 26 sets of six from the total of 43 possessions they received. Normally those kinds of statistics are coming from the losing team, rather than a side recording a comfortable 24-4 victory.
Thankfully they found a team in Cronulla who were worse on the day. The Sharks completed only 23 sets of six for the afternoon. You don’t beat any team in this competition with those figures.
The Sea Eagles tried to maintain their discipline and resilience in defence to keep the Sharks scoreless. They failed by only seconds with the Sharks scoring a soft try from a cross-field kick seconds before the final siren.
The Sharks? It wasn’t good. Granted they are still missing three of their top-line forwards, and they will be a better team when these guys return. However, there was just a sloppiness about them on Sunday that couldn’t possibly sit well with the coaching staff.
It wasn’t so much what they did or didn’t do with the ball in hand. It wasn’t just the brittleness of their defensive line in the first 50 minutes of the game either. It was more about how they looked off the ball. Their body language was poor. They looked bedraggled and lacked urgency on transition. These are not good signs. It looked a lot like they are waiting for the return of their injured players before they believe they can match it with the top teams in the competition.
Don’t go blaming the replacements for the result either. It’s the senior players who need to lead the way here. They simply weren’t up to scratch.
The Sharks have the makings of a top-five side when at full strength. But in the meantime they have to show a lot more belief in the replacements who are out there busting their necks for the team.
I gave Manly 9/10 for their first half. I doubt they would rate themselves much more than 5/10 for the second period. Fortunately for them, that’s all they needed.