text

Touch of class ... Manly halfback Daly Cherry-Evans gives Knights back-rower Alex McKinnon the slip yesterday. Photo: Wolter Peeters

A sunny, August Sunday afternoon at their Brookvale home base, hosting the in-form Knights, provided the perfect platform for Manly to make a statement about their 2012 intentions.

Now only two weeks away from finals football, I expected something dynamic from the Sea Eagles.

They did not waste the opportunity.

A stunning first half of near perfect rugby league blew the Knights off the park to the tune of 38-4. This scintillating, seven-try romp sent a clear and defined message that the defending premiers will not be giving up their trophy without a fight.

Sure there are other genuine title contenders. The Bulldogs deserve their minor premiership position and history shows us this is a club that won't be scared to win a another title.

The Melbourne Storm are also determined. Their champion playmakers are the envy of most NRL teams. They have an undeniable chance.

South Sydney haven't been in this position for many, many years. It would appear at this stage they are finding the oxygen in the air a little thin at their lofty position near the top of the table. However, they are capable of a strong finals showing and have given themselves a shot at glory.

The Cowboys remain something of a dark horse. They have the roster and they also have Johnathan Thurston.

But despite the obvious credentials of all these other contenders, I get the feeling that if Manly are at their best, they will be the first team to win back-to-back titles since the Broncos achieved the feat in 1993.

There is something hypnotic about watching a well drilled football team systematically dissect an opponent. Manly's clinical ball movement and mesmerising sleight of hand totally bewildered, and at times even embarrassed, the Newcastle defensive system.

It wasn't as though they were playing slouches either. The Knights have been in terrific form and are coached by the master, Wayne Bennett. One can safely assume they came to Brookvale yesterday both well prepared and well intentioned. However, they were never in the contest during this blistering first half.

The Manly forwards ran roughshod over their rivals. Halves Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran revelled in the extra time and space afforded them. They tore the Knights to shreds on the left side, the right side, and even down the middle of the field.

To the right they have the guile and craft of Glenn Stewart and Jamie Lyon, terrorising defenders with their repertoire of passes and angles.

To the left they have the raw power of Tony Williams and Steve Matai who both prefer to run at faces rather than spaces. They intimidate opponents even before they get to them. Defences will often over-read and over-compensate when trying to contain them. This then offers opportunities for the speed men around them.

Down the middle they have fullback Brett Stewart lurking around the play-the-ball area supporting his dummy-half; or just sweating on the inside passes from his alert playmakers as they taunt tired and lazy forwards in the opposition defensive line.

It was pretty to watch. Power, skill, speed; plus the necessary touch of ruthlessness. Yep, this was an absolute carve up. The Knights had no answer. The half-time siren saved them, otherwise the scoring was never going to stop.

Events and injuries in the second half conspired to slow the Manly demolition and offered a chance for the Knights to play a bit if attacking football of their own. They ran in some nice tries against Manly's disorganised defence; but the damage had already been done.

The Sea Eagles, down to only 13 healthy players and no interchange replacements to call on, paced themselves to the finish line. They struggled at times with players playing out of position and with no regular dummy-half to operate the rucks. They put away the flamboyance, closed ranks and grafted for a while. However, once the result was safely in their keeping, Manly then delivered a killer blow on the stroke of full-time to remind the Knights who was boss.

I really liked this Manly performance. Powerful stuff.