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Matter of degree: Sea Eagles compensate for lapses but Bunnies' Jekyll-Hyde routine could end in heartache

Classy ... Daly Cherry-Evans stayed composed.

Classy ... Daly Cherry-Evans stayed composed. Photo: Brendan Esposito

The two better teams won the elimination semi-finals. However, the devil is usually in the detail, so let's dig a little deeper.

Sea Eagles v Cowboys: This was a good, strong, contest. The Cowboys had fallen at this hurdle before, so were determined to make amends. Again, though, they didn't quite produce their best football on this, their biggest night of the season.

Passing rushes looked nowhere near as fluent as we've come to expect, and the combinations that have served them so well all year only made fleeting appearances.

The Cowboys' attack appeared flustered by the excellent coverage they encountered from Manly.

They refused to buckle though and had the defending premiers rocking midway through the second half. They clawed their way back and were close enough on the scoreboard to snatch victory at the death if they could find the big play they needed.

It's now well documented this chance was taken away from them by one of the more extraordinary video referee blunders we've witnessed this season.

I don't usually refer to referee controversy in these columns, but in this case I will make an exception. This was diabolical. In fact, I will go as far to say I felt sick for the game of rugby league when it occurred. It not only spoiled the match and deflated the Cowboys' spirit, it was a complete embarrassment to our code.

It's not enough to later admit "we got it wrong" or "it's not ideal". We've been subjected to many a clanger from the eye-in-the-sky boys over the years, so no real surprises there. What continues to amaze is that the same people making these errors keep getting a start in the video referee's box. Why? Please explain.

It is also confusing that match officials can somehow find a very different interpretation of a particular incident to 99 per cent of the players and fans watching. How can this be?

Now, let's get this straight, the Manly team didn't make this call. They just forced the issue with their aggression and competitiveness. No one is blaming them or suggesting they wouldn't have won the game anyway. It's just that people are tired of being disappointed.

Make no mistake, the NRL referee ranks are in total disarray and divided on many issues.

On-field referees have lost ownership and control of the rule book. The men with the whistles are being let down by the systems that have been thrust upon them thanks to sustained pressure and interference from coaches, and in no small way due to the sensitivity of our game's leaders to media criticism.

I'm positive the whistle-blowers on the field are far better than they show, or are being allowed to show. Give them ownership and trust them.

Anyway, back to the football.

Manly were terrific. They had been licking their wounds all week after falling to the Bulldogs. It's obvious a number of them are carrying injuries, but you wouldn't know it the way they threw themselves into their work.

The Manly defence was outstanding for most of the contest, but they are still guilty of lapses when the scoreboard looks comfortable. This is a mental thing.

However, for the most part, their expertise in working as a unit in defence, and their athleticism in covering the field, rattled the team with the best attacking record of the season. That's quite an achievement.

It was a great team effort. The forwards diligently toiled away at the tough stuff. The halves Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran are now very adept at big-match football. They were classy and tough at all the right times.

Big Tony Williams gave us a lot more of what we expect. He charged onto the ball with renewed vigour and was a real handful for the Cowboys' edge defenders.

Jamie Lyon was inspirational. Some players really do get better with age. Well, maybe not better, but they have the ability to impart greater influence over a team's performance. His presence was vital to Manly's success.

All in all, a good game, spoiled by the video referee horror. However, the better team won the day.

South Sydney v Canberra: It was D-Day for the Rabbitohs and they got the job done. Mind you, there were still traces of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde inconsistencies that continue to plague this team.

This victory was set up in the first 30 minutes thanks to an aggressive mindset from the South Sydney big men. They produced a sustained period of power running. This was backed up by enthusiastic support play as Souths totally overwhelmed their rivals.

Most influential were the likes of Sam Burgess, Roy Asostasi and Dave Taylor. They ran without fear, and bent the Raiders' defence back.

Souths five-eighth John Sutton, the biggest No.6 on the planet, also played like a forward and terrorised his smaller opponents.

Hooker Issac Luke took his opportunity to start the match with both hands. He's a talent - his speed and aggression out of dummy-half were key factors in this opening barrage.

The 14-0 scoreline after 30 minutes did not reflect the physical dominance that the Rabbitohs had established. The Raiders appeared powerless to contain their rampaging opponents.

Then enter South Sydney's evil side, Mr Hyde. Without warning, the fire went out of the Rabbitohs' bellies. Concentration waned. They conceded the soft penalty, followed immediately by conceding the soft try, then for good measure repeated the dose.

The same sequence occurred in the second half. No sooner had Souths kicked away to another comfortable lead than they immediately lost respect for their opponents and started playing to the crowd with frivolous passes instead of ruthlessly grinding the Raiders into the dirt. Unforced errors, combined with sloppy defence, handed the Raiders an opportunity to score again.

Thankfully, Souths steeled themselves in the run to the line and finished the match with some dominant passages of play to run out easy winners. I just don't know why they lapse the way they do at crucial times during the 80 minutes.

Big-match football is about being relentless. The Rabbitohs need to cut down the difference between their best and worst periods.

I'm confident their best football can beat any team in the competition. However, I'm equally confident their worst football can be beaten by any team in the competition.

The chance to win a premiership doesn't come around too often. Souths are only two victories away. They need to start to feel it, believe it. It's a perfect time to get things right.

The Raiders? Well, they should be congratulated for their courageous second half of the season. They played some quality football and some of the young players in their ranks have great potential.

60 comments so far

  • Why not give the 'benefit of the doubt' to the defending team in the case of a try-scoring play. Consider the reward to the attacker if a bad call has been made in their favour - Four points (and most times six). On the other hand, if the 'botb' goes to the defending team even if it is a bad call, they would only be rewarded possession of the ball. I understand that the 'botd' rule wants to reward attack but it seems to me that there is a huge disparity between the rewards. This assumes there will be bad calls but unfortunately it will always be so.

    Commenter
    Rollo Greb
    Date and time
    September 17, 2012, 6:59AM
    • @Rollo Greb.......they use to have 'botd' for the defence....then it was changed to 'reward' attacking football....

      Commenter
      Damian
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      September 17, 2012, 12:39PM
  • How good is the Manly winger Jorge Taufua - best player on the field!

    Commenter
    Albers
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    September 17, 2012, 7:35AM
    • Almost impartial comment from Phil Gould for once. But that is easy to do once his goal was achieved. Manly to beat the Cowboys. The refereeing decissions in this game were criminal. Sorry Sydney, but this was a set-up. There was no way that the referees were ever going to allow the Cowboys win. They know where their bread is buttered.

      Commenter
      John
      Location
      Townsville
      Date and time
      September 17, 2012, 7:49AM
      • @John.......shocking mistake by refs.....but conspiracy? Too many Top end stubbies and sun for you Johnny......Cows weren't good enough.....

        Commenter
        Damian
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        September 17, 2012, 12:43PM
      • You obviously don't appreciate how much Manly are hated in Sydney. Every Sydney-sider except Manly fans would cheerfully enjoy a North Queensland V Melbourne grand final than have to sit through another decider featuring the Eagles.

        If they left the competition no one would shed a tear....

        Commenter
        bear54
        Location
        The Outback
        Date and time
        September 17, 2012, 1:32PM
      • John, you have my sympathy and support, as a Rabbitohs fan of 50 years. I was totally outraged at the refereeing on this game. I've said it before, unfortunately, and I'll say it again - it looked to me like "result engineering".

        Strange that no-one has mentioned in print the other "stinker" that Many got away with, when they grounded the ball behind their own line from a kick-off. Just another of the many advantages handed to Manly during the course of that most infamous match!

        Commenter
        Perspective
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        September 17, 2012, 8:50PM
    • The two best teams won

      How can that be said about Manly with Cowboys coming from 12 points behind to level the match and as all commentators like to say Cowboys had all the momentum. Manly were lucky and looked tired. The Power brokers of the NSW team harped on about being robbed of origin for months. Ricky Stuart was quoted in the weekend papers that referees costed them the series but Gus fobs off this that the best team won this match. Definitely looking at two different games

      Manly re certainties to win the the comp after what happened on Friday

      Commenter
      kellybellyfonte
      Date and time
      September 17, 2012, 8:03AM
      • Cowboys had the momentum as a result of an illegal play being missed and a try scored off a flat pass as a result. Manly were the better side on the night. Anybody impartial that watched the game could see that. North Queensland were a top 8 side and played well but y were found lacking when it comes to being a top 4 side. Close but no cigar, as they say.

        Commenter
        Tired Camel
        Date and time
        September 17, 2012, 1:42PM
      • You bring up a subject which is my pet hate, the stripping rule. A few years back the refs could use the video ref to check if their were hands attacking the lost ball. Whilst this rule was available the players dramatically stopped playing at the ball but the wise men in the commentary team on channel nine constantly bagged this innovation and the weak leadership stopped the use of the video ref for this. As soon as this occurred everybody got back into. The video ref is their why not use him for something that is down right cheating and you will find coaches instruct their players not to play at the ball.

        Who cares Manly has won the comp

        Commenter
        kellybellyfonte
        Date and time
        September 17, 2012, 3:06PM

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