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Manly have stunned the Cowboys by 30-8 in sweltering conditions in Townsville, with a defensive masterclass from the visitors denying the Cowboys again and again in a sensational performance to open their account for 2017.
Trent Barrett's men were feeling the heat from both their fans and the media during the week, as the Sea Eagles were staring down the barrel of seven straight defeats, having not won a match since Round 21 in 2016 over the then hapless Knights. In a superb defensive performance, Manly stunned the Cowboys in front of their own home fans at 1300 Smiles Stadium.
With stars Jason Taumalolo, Matt Scott, Antonio Winterstein and Lachlan Coote all missing the Cowboys struggled, as they just didn't have any answers in attack against a determined Manly defensive brick wall, which absorbed everything but the kitchen sink offered by the home side. Skipper Jonthan Thurston tried hard, however he just could not find a way through the Eagles defence and poor errors in their own half cost the home side any chance of a comeback victory.
It was Manly half Daly Cherry-Evans, who turned the game on its head, when the under pressure half kicked a magnificent 40/20 from his own 30m line. Off the ensuing play, the star half grubbered on the last, which bounced over a flying Kyle Feldt and popped up for winger Jorge Taufua to score the first try of the night for the visitors.
The game suddenly flipped the script when when a Jonathan Thurston grubber on the last tackle rebounded off Tom Trbojevic who scooped up the ball and jetted length of the field to silence the home crowd. Dylan Walker added the extras and Manly snatched a shock 14-8 lead at the break. From there the Sea Eagles continually kept the home side at bay, with a steely determination not seen since the 1990's when the Eagles had enforcers David Gillespie and Ian Roberts leading the defence.
A kickoff temperature of 30 degrees and the humidity level at over 80% took its toll in the early exchanges, with a few dropped balls from both teams early. Both sides were struggling early and both elected to take penalty goals when they were on offer and scores were tied at 2-2 after 17 minutes.
The Sea Eagles almost had a nightmare scenario minutes later, when prop Nate Myles came through to tackle Cowboys winger Javid Bowen after a break down field, however the big prop collided with both Bowen and team mate Tom Trbojevic. Trbojevic came off second best and had to leave the field to take a concussion test. Luckily for the visitors their star fullback was cleared and returned to the field.
The visitors gave away numerous penalties to the Cowboys and despite the Eagles defence off the line being impressive, they finally cracked when Cowboys hooker Jake Granville darted from dummy half close to the line to muscle his way over next to the posts. Jonathan Thurston added the extras and the home side led 8-2 with ten minutes remaining in the half.
A stunning 40/20 from Cherry-Evans lead to two quick tries from Taufua and Tom Trbojevic and the Sea Eagles quickly grabbed the ascendancy and were rewarded with a gift two points from in front early in the second half, when Cowboys hooker Jake Granville was penalised for holding down prop Brenton Lawrence. Walker then extended the lead to 16-8.
Prop Lawrence then responded after some poor handling in the first half, when he muscled his way over to clinch his first try of the season, Walker made it five from five with the boot and Manly were away leading 22-8 with half an hour remaining. Dylan Walker was then given another gift penalty in front of the posts to make it 24-8.
The Cowboys then realised that they needed to get a move on if they were any hope to get back into the match and despite halves Jonathan Thurston and Michael Morgan looking likely, key errors inside their own half combined with the stoic Manly defence denied the home side again and again.
The Cowboys tried but Manly just wanted the two points more and they clinched victory in style when new recruits in former Bulldog Shaun Lane broke the line and found former Rooster Jackson Hastings who scored under the posts on his Manly debut to seal a memorable victory for the Sea Eagles.
Manly now head back to Brookvale Oval next Saturday afternoon, where they welcome back former premiership winning coach Des Hasler back in a grudge match against fierce rivals Canterbury, who also managed their first win this weekend.
The Cowboys will need to re-group and fine tune their attack as they travel to Cbus Super Stadium to face the Gold Coast Titans in a Queensland derby.