COWBOYS prop James Tamou predicted Manly would not defend their premiership based on their performance in Friday's controversy-charged elimination semi-final.
The Sea Eagles bundled North Queensland out of the finals race 22-12 but only after Michael Oldfield was awarded a try despite five-eighth Kieran Foran appearing to have knocked the ball forward from a Daly Cherry-Evans bomb. Earlier, the video referees had awarded winger Jorge Taufua a try that seemed to have a hint of double movement.
The Cowboys dressing room was a hotbed of emotion with back-rower Glenn Hall calling Foran a ''fibber'' for maintaining he didn't touch the ball while other players echoed skipper Johnathan Thurston's onfield complaint to referee Shayne Hayne that his team had been robbed twice.
Tamou was adamant that unless the Sea Eagles improved, their finals campaign would come to a shuddering halt against Melbourne on Friday night.
''Based on tonight's game, no, I don't reckon they'll win the premiership,'' Tamou told The Sun-Herald. ''We sort of let ourselves down but going off tonight I don't think Manly is a premiership-winning team.''
Tamou said the Sea Eagles had benefited from two errors made by the video referees and explained the frustration he and his teammates felt as calls going against them ultimately worked in Manly's favour. ''I believe they don't deserve those points but there is nothing I can do about it,'' fumed the NSW Origin forward. ''It's tough to swallow that one, just watching the big screen go over a try 20 times each instead of a referee making a decision or looking at it the first time sort of thing.
''It's tough to deal with that frustration. Afterwards I was having a few words with the Manly boys because it felt as though something was brewing up out there but that's just the frustration … you have to be smart and don't let the frustration get the better of you. ''
Sea Eagles co-captain Jason King conceded his team would have to be at its best against the Storm to progress to the grand final.
''Playing Melbourne means it will be a hard game; they're always well prepared,'' King said. ''We have to be ready for the challenge.''
However, King said he had given no thought to talk his side had struggled to score points in the second half. ''That's not something we focus on at all,'' he said. ''We just focus on the football things that we need to and the areas we need to improve on and we'll continue to do that this week. We'll have a look at our tape and pull out the things we did well and the things we need to improve on and we'll study Melbourne's tape and have a look at their threats.''
Manly hooker Matt Ballin refused to buy into the anticipated hype that would accompany the grand final eliminator after tensions between the Storm and Sea Eagles spilled over in last year's wild free-for-all brawl, which has become known as ''Donny-brookvale''. ''It's a semi-final so it doesn't matter what the history between us is,'' he said. ''They're a great side but we're going OK.
''I thought we improved. Defensively I thought we were good on Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen and with the ball we could probably have controlled it better but we were better than last week.
''The team that comes best prepared and completes their sets will win, I think. To beat Melbourne we will need good completions and good defence.''
Although suspended centre Steve Matai would be available to Manly for the Storm match, rugby league immortal Wally Lewis described rookie Sea Eagles winger Jorge Taufua as a revelation. In Manly's two opening finals games he'd sent statisticians into a frenzy with two tries, six line breaks, 25 tackle busts and running a staggering total of 513 metres.
''I like that he's not getting carried away with it; he seems to know he could do better,'' Lewis said. ''His positional play is very good and I'm excited to see he's a winger who changes hands with the ball to make sure he has his right hand available for fending.
''What he came up with in the bottom left-hand corner [the controversial try] - there's not too many who can do that. In my day, the old-time wingers wouldn't have had the strength to do that.''