Manly Warringah has shown that they'll be amongst the conversation to play finals footy with a resounding 42-12 win over a pedestrian Newcastle Knights side at 4 Pines Park this evening, placing more heat on embattled Newcastle coach Adam O'Brien.
This match was important to both sides semi-final chances with Manly being joined on 18 competition points by the Roosters after their earlier victory this afternoon, while the Knights were slowly losing touch with the teams in the log-jam for the final spots around the top 8.
Manly was quick to fire inside the opening ten minutes and their efforts were rewarded following a cheap escort penalty conceded by Dane Gagai. Tolatau Koula continued his purple patch of try-scoring form doing a clever right foot step to make Enari Tuala look like a fool and cross for the first try of the evening. Daly Cherry-Evans continued to deputise the goal-kicking duties for his crook Eagles team-mate Reuben Garrick and made no mistakes.
Newcastle responded almost immediately when a lovely play from Jayden Brailey down the blind saw him link up with Kalyn Ponga who in turn found Gagai who quickly shifted it onto Dom Young with the Jamaican kicking back in field and Adam Clune won the race to the ball first and the Knights quickly locked the scoreline back up. Newcastle thought they grabbed a second but Edrick Lee was denied following a forward pass that was correctly picked up by the officials.
Off the error, Andrew Davey blitzed the Knights down the left-hand side of the park after a deep dig into the line from Kieran Foran. Davey linked up with Jason Saab who gets the crowd in his selfie to celebrate #TryJuly. Manly looked set for more when they went back down the left-hand side, but Anthony Milford had a grab of Garrick's arm and after momentarily playing advantage, Gerard Sutton had no choice but to send the 5/8 to the sin bin. DCE knocked over the penalty goal to give Manly an eight-point half-time lead.
Newcastle was first to score in the second half despite being short on numbers, Kalyn Ponga was the man in the lead role. It was a great pass from KP to Lachlan Fitzgibbon who found Enari Tuala who blitzed them straight through the middle before a no-look pass found Kalyn Ponga and despite being down to 12 men, the Knights crossed first in the second 40. Just when it appeared they would survive the sin bin period, Manly pounced when Foran exposed the Newcastle defence by linking up with DCE before a magic pass to Saab saw the winger collect his second of the evening and the eight-point half-time gap was re-established.
Manly was running away with it just before the hour mark and eventually put some respectability on the scoreboard, another bust from Koula was cut down by Ponga. However, on the ensuing tackle, Garrick linked up with Haumole Olakau'atu who burst onto the ball and stepped past the fatigued defence of Daniel Saifiti and Jayden Brailey to slam it down, DCE hit the upright and the margin was two converted tries.
Five minutes later, the carnage continued when Garrick hit a beautiful line before linking up with Andrew Davey to cross for the Sea Eagles. That extended the margin to 18 points and went a long way to improving their for and against which could prove vital for the run into September. That statistic was only improving when DCE was putting it on a string and another great grubber found Christian Tuipulotu and Manly were up by 24 points and would close out the game giving their Origin stars a much-needed early mark to rest up for the coming weeks. They grabbed a late try when Lachlan Croker crashed over off a great offload from Dylan Walker to cement the scoreline.
Manly take on St George Illawarra next weekend in what's a big match for both sides in the race for the eight. Newcastle have probably done their dash in season 2022, they've just lacked the consistency through poor attacking and even weaker defence which has seen Adam O'Brien's future drawn into question.