The Manly Sea Eagles have out-classed the St George Illawarra Dragons in front of 10530 fans at Kogarah's Jubilee Oval tonight, giving themselves an outright lead at the top of the table.
The match wrapped up an emotional round of football which will forever be remembered as "Rise For Alex" Round with everyone in Rugby League banding together in a tremendous show of support for an inspirational young man.
The Dragons came out breathing fire early, clearly motivated by their former team mate McKinnon and were winning the early battle for field position. They earned themselves a penalty and ended up with three straight attacking sets on Manly's line. The Sea Eagles defence held firm though and Dragons five-eight Gareth Widdop opted to take the two points after his team received another penalty in the 9th minute.
It didn't take too long for Manly's class to shine through with centre Steve Matai scoring the first try of the night in the 21st minute after bursting onto the end of a trademark backline movement in which Brett Stewart threw the last pass. Lyon kicked the conversion from the sideline to give his team a 6-2 lead.
From the ensuing set of six Manly would score again through Foran who picked up a loose ball which was knocked down by Dragons winger Nightingale whilst Matai was trying to pass after his break down the left. Lyon missed the conversion but Manly had a 10-2 lead and were looking in great touch with the ball in hand.
The Dragons showed some brave defence for the rest of the half however, turning numerous attacking raids from Manly away and coming up with a try of their own. In the 38th minute, Dragons halfback Benji Marshall strolled through a yawning gap after a switch of play for Widdop to drift across field and send his halves partner over. Widdop added the extras reducing the deficit to two heading into the halftime break.
Both teams battled to gain the upper hand in the early stages of the second half, but it was ultimately a Dragons error which turned the game in Manly's favour. Winger Brett Morris in his first game back since Origin one put down a pass 5m out from his own line from Adam Quinlan. It was all the invitation the visitors needed and Tom Symonds stormed onto a classy face ball from his halfback Daly Cherry-Evans in the 54th minute. Lyon added the extras to extend the lead to 16-8.
Manly crossed again five minutes later through winger Jorge Taufua who crashed over in the corner after a nice cut out pass from Stewart giving his team a twelve point lead.
The Dragons had countless opportunities to get back into the contest attacking their opposition's line, but the tough as always Manly defence wouldn't budge. The boot of Cherry-Evans would seal the game for Manly with a drop out rolling into touch giving his team the ball back and some much needed field position. He was quick to take advantage piloting a field goal over in the 76th minute, putting the game beyond doubt.
The home team scored a consolation try through Nightingale moments later but it was all too late.
Next week the Dragons will be desperate for a win to stay in touch with the top eight when they take on the Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium on Sunday, whilst Manly will travel across the ditch to take on the Warriors on the same day at Mt Smart Stadium.