Greg Eastwood played a leading role in the Bulldogs' win
Photo: Getty Images
WHAT WE LEARNED: After big prelim wins, the best two teams make it to the grannie...
MELBOURNE 40 d MANLY 12
Melbourne was switched on, and the final stats reflect their utter dominance. They had 64 per cent of possession, completed 31 sets to 16, ran 1633m to 774m and had eight line breaks to Manly’s one.
Jamie Lyon was very good in a side that was thrashed. It was no coincidence that he scored all of Manly’s points, and his soaring take to secure his team’s first try was a highlight. Veteran Joe Galuvao was the only other Sea Eagle who scraped a pass mark on the night.
Cooper Cronk was masterful. He exploited Manly’s misery on their left side in defence, and showed great speed and awareness to support Will Chambers for a crucial try four minutes into the second half.
Billy Slater had his best game since the mid-season injury. He ran 200m, had three line breaks, 10 tackle busts and two tries, including an 80m effort from a scrum play for the sealer.
Jaiman Lowe continues to provide great service off the bench, straightening the point of attack and contributing 114m. He was well supported by fellow interchanges Sika Manu and Richie Fa’aoso.
AAMI Park was almost full despite a predictably small contingent of Manly fans. Storm’s profile is still not high in Melbourne, but there are some very committed fans in the southern capital and the atmosphere is excellent.
Manly’s hands. Dropsy used to be an archaic term for an often fatal condition. Now it refers to the Sea-Eagles’ fatally bad ball handling.
Manly’s ball-running. T-Rex Williams was handled with ease all night in his last Sea Eagles appearance, and Glenn Stewart and Anthony Watmough spent too much time running east-west rather than north-south.
Manly’s stats. Brett Stewart contributed just 31m of running to go with four missed tackles; Jorge Taufua made four errors; Steve Matai ran just 13m and missed seven tackles; Glenn Stewart made two errors and missed seven tackles; Tony Williams ran 33m; and starting props Jason King and Brent Kite contribute 41m and 50m respectively.
Melbourne’s inability to make the first-half scoreboard reflect their dominance in the first 40 minutes. As it happened, the second-half core was an accurate reflection of the contest, but the inability to turn pressure into points that has plagued the Storm in the second half of the season could still be a factor in the grand final.
The video ref giving Slater the benefit of the doubt for his dodgy ninth minute try. The sooner the benefit of the doubt goes to the defending team, the better the sport will be.
Manly’s performance was the worst seen in a preliminary final for many a year. The dropped balls, the lack of go forward, the air of doomed hopelessness that they carried for the whole second half – this was a genuine Barry Crocker. North Queenslanders will call it karma; at Brookvale they will call it a nightmare.
CANTERBURY 32 d SOUTH SYDNEY 8
The Bulldogs’ expansiveness. In the opening set of six they swung the ball all over the field with enormous enterprise, and reaped the benefits with a third minute try. All night they played with more width than the lapels on a 1970s suit, and that daring approach paid off. Could this be The Entertainers Mark II?
Greg Eastwood. The enigmatic Kiwi showed all of his abundant talent. After an audacious chip kick almost came off early in the game, he was vigorous in attack and defence. In the second half he threw the last pass for Sam Perrett’s second try, made the bust and threw the last pass for Frank Pritchard’s try, then celebrated by plucking an Issac Luke chip out of the air and rumbling 40m for his own try on the hooter. Eastwood finished with 149m, one line break, three tackle breaks, two assists and a try.
The crowd of 70,354 was what the game needed – and deserved.
Greg Inglis tried hard. His best moment came when he defused a two-on-one, holding off from committing until the last moment before tackling Josh Reynolds into touch with only centimetres to spare. He also ran 174m and made four tackle breaks.
Ben Barba was busy all night, and showed sublime touch to take the ball under pressure and grubber it all in one motion to provide Jonathan Wright with a try in the corner.
The ‘Bupa Twins’, Aiden Tolman and James Graham, were workaholic props. Tolman carried the ball 162m and made 39 tackles, while Graham contributed 131m and 40 tackles.
Sam Burgess provides even better value in the back-row than at prop, and tried all night. He finished with 157m and 36 tackles. However he also made three errors and conceded three penalties.
Canterbury’s backs were excellent. Their men in jumpers two, three, four and five carried the ball for an average of 164m. By contrast, the Souths wingers and centres averaged just 60m each.
Souths’ lack of direction once Adam Reynolds went off. The Bunnies were up 8-4 when their boom halfback was injured 26 minutes in, and they did not find a viable alternative playmaker for the rest of the game. Luke and Inglis lacked the finesse needed, while John Sutton’s kicking game was mediocre when his team needed it most.
You can stake your house that Des Hasler will be mentioning goal-line defence to Sam Kasiano. The big prop leaped forward when he was an ‘A’ defender, creating a pocket for Luke to stroll through for a simple dummy-half try.
It is easy to knock Dave Taylor, but his last game as a Rabbitoh showcased many of the frustrating things about him. His hands can be unreliable, his decision-making can be poor, and his energy and aggression in the early going was not maintained. His worst moment was a sloppy missed tackle on Eastwood in midfield. He provided just 55m of ball carrying and must improve if he is to provide value to the Titans next year.
Many fans blew up about the refereeing, but it did not determine the result. While Bunnies fans felt aggrieved about the penalty paid against Sam Burgess for a high shot, even more bewildering was Shane Hayne’s decision to penalise Josh Morris for blocking a runner. Both teams were lying all over the ruck, something that hopefully will not be allowed next Sunday.
We love listening to Ray Warren. He provides big game atmosphere like no other commentator. However, the great Rabs has occasional problems identifying players correctly, and mixing up the red-headed Kris Keating with the dark-skinned Ben Barba was not a moment for the highlight reel.
The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.
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