Manly Sea Eagles 24 v St George Illawarra Dragons 26
at Brookvale Oval
Referee: Shayne Hayne
The St George Illawarra Dragons have held on to narrowly defeat the Manly Sea Eagles by 26-24 at Brookvale this afternoon. The win is a confidence boost for the Dragons who were coming off a 54-6 thrashing from Newcastle the week before.
Halfback Mathew Head was a late inclusion in the Dragons side, making his return to first grade after 10 months on the sideline with a knee injury. Head looked to be fine form, setting up numerous plays including a classy bust in the 30th minute which led to the first of two tries for centre Matt Cooper.
But it was Manly who started on the front foot and were first to score after just seven minutes when back rower Ben Kennedy ran onto a Matt Orford pass. Orford's conversion was successful and a subsequent penalty goal put the home side up by 8-0 after 14 minutes.
Then against the run of play, Dragons hooker Dean Young crashed over in the 19th minute and Cooper's try 11 minutes later put Saints 12-8 in front.
But the Sea Eagles struck back just before half time when winger Michael Robertson scored a sensational try after leaping high to pull down a Travis Burns cross-field kick.
At half time, the Sea Eagles were 14-12 in front.
In a see-sawing match, Cooper scored his second try in the 53rd minute to put Saints back in front as both sides went up a gear. Five minutes later Saints went further ahead after hero-turned-villain Travis Burns gave away a number of penalties, including a gift two points right in front of the posts. Leading 20-14 and with a breeze at their backs, the Dragons appeared to be gaining the momentum.
The Sea Eagles however were not to be outdone. With big centre Steve Matai carving them up just wide of the ruck, Manly struck back with a try to fullback Brett Stewart within easy kicking range. But Orford was unsuccessful with the conversion and with 15 minutes remaining, Saints were hanging onto a 20-18 lead.
Less than two minutes later, Dragons back rower Matt Bickerstaff tilted the scales back the way of the visitors when he crashed over next to the posts. Mathew Head was successful with the conversion and Saints were leading 26-18.
Sea Eagles forward Brent Kite scored in similar fashion in the 74th minute. The scores were once again narrowed to just two points setting up the match for a nail-biting finish.
Manly had their chances to post their fourth consecutive win. But the Dragons line held firm and with seconds remaining, a last-ditched attacking movement was defused courtesy of a Mathew Head intercept.
Manly Sea Eagles: 24
Tries: Ben Kennedy, Brent Kite, Brett Stewart, Michael Robertson
Goals: Matt Orford 4/5
St George Illawarra Dragons: 26
Tries: Matt Cooper(2), Dean Young, Matthew Bickerstaff
Goals: Mathew Head 5/5
By the Clock:
Teams getting ready to come onto the field. As expected Dragons halfback Mathew Head has been a late inclusion. He has been named on the wing replacing Reece Simmonds but should slot into the halves.
Manly finally make their way onto the field and they kickoff! Saints running into a first half breeze.
4 min: NEWS Corey Payne (Dragons) concussed after a high hit and taken to the sheds.
6 min: NEWS Dean Young (Dragons) on report for swinging arm to Manly's Steve Bell.
7 min: TRY Manly Sea Eagles
Ben Kennedy crashes through after running onto a Matt Orford pass. Follows some leadup work from Kennedy up the middle of the field and two back-to-back penalties.
Conversion successful from Orford from close range.
Sea Eagles 6-0
14 min: PENALTY GOAL Manly Sea Eagles
Orford from 25m out and right in front after Saints are penalised for offside.
Sea Eagles 8-0
17 min: NEWS Manly fullback Brett Stewart injured after falling awkwardly into a defender's knees. Looks like he might be able to continue after getting the sponge but he was down for a while.
Follows some neat work up the middle with Stewart regathering an Orford chip kick.
19 min: TRY St George Illawarra Dragons
Dean Young crashes over next to the posts. Follows Saints getting a roll-on and quick play the ball from forward Justin Poore who almost crashed over himself.
Conversion Mathew Head from in front.
Sea Eagles 8-6
25 min: NEWS Manly bomb a try when Stewart is unable to deliver a clean pass to an unmarked winger. The ball goes into touch and a try goes begging.
27 min: NEWS Now Manly's Steve Matai makes a big bust up the middle of the ruck. Saints hold them out but they seem to be struggling with the forward charges from the home side.
30 min: TRY St George Illawarra Dragons
Matt Cooper scores under the sticks after Mat Head splits them open from 30m out. Against the run of play but the Dragons are in front. Conversion successful.
36 min: TRY Manly Sea Eagles
Michael Roberston flies high in spectacular fashion to bring down a Travis Burns cross-field bomb.
Orford converts from the sideline and Manly are back in front!
Sea Eagles 14-12
Half time: Sea Eagles 14-12
With a little more possession the Sea Eagles having the better of it in the first half and seem to be winning the battle of the ruck. They are making the yards and running harder while the Dragons marker defence has sometimes been caught on the back foot. Kennedy looking in tremendous form in both defence and attack.
Saints need to lift but are are showing some good hitups of their own. They will have a breeze at their backs in the second half and at just two points behind, they are still well in the match.
Robertson's spectacular leap just before the break is the difference at this stage - this match is too close to call.
Second half underway...
NEWS from the sheds: Dragons forward Corey Payne will take no further part. Dragons down to a three-man bench.
48 min: NEWS Manly five-eighth Travis Burns penalised fo dissent while in possession! Not the fisrt time Burns has given away a penalty.
53 min: NEWS HELD UP. Mark Gasnier is held up out wide as the Dragons are lifting in abundance. Follows a big bust minutes earlier from Young with Saints coming within a whisker of scoring.
53 min: Possible TRY to Dragons... video ref looking....
53 min: TRY St George Illawarra Dragons
Cooper gets the nod scoring out wide after video ref checks the grounding.
Conversion from Head swings back a beaut to add the extras and Saints regain the lead!
58 min: NEWS Burns in trouble again with the ref after going high in the tackle. Saints will take a shot at goal.
58 min: PENALTY GOAL St George Illawarra Dragons
Head kicks the goal from right in front.
64 min: TRY Manly Sea Eagles
Stewart scores in good position to the posts after Steve Matai busts them open from 40m out. A tremendous run from Matai who has been threatening all match.
Orford's conversion attempt is a shocker.
66 min: TRY St George Illawarra Dragons
Matt Bickerstaff scores next to the posts after busting through Monaghan and Menzies. Follows Manly error after the restart.
Converted by Head.
74 min: TRY Manly Sea Eagles
Brent Kite scores next to the posts, forcing his way over while surrounded by defenders.
Orford adds the extras.
76 min: NEWS Dragons survive a Manly raid and are now working it out of their own half.
78 min: NEWS Manly in possession on halfway, they kick ahead and almost score. Hornby grounds it. Dragons forced into a line drop out!
79 min: NEWS Mat Head intercepts to defuse another Manly raid and looks to have saved the Dragons.
Full time: Dragons 26-24
End-to-end football and Saints get the points in an entertaining match. Halfback Mathew Head returning to first grade and putting on a great show after 10 months out of the game. Backrower Shaun Timmins made a successful return as well and centre Matt Cooper looked in very good form in scoring his two tries.
Manly were let down by poor discipline in the second half while Saints slowly gained the ascendancy. It'll be a case of 'what if' for the home side who probably know they can do better. Forwards Ben Kennedy and Steve Matai were Manly's best along with Shayne Dunley who was a handful from dummy half.
Leagueunlimited.com players of the match:
3 - Mathew Head (Dragons)
2 - Ben Kennedy (Sea Eagles)
1 - Matt Cooper (Dragons)