Almanac Rugby League – Going the distance

You learn a lot about life from watching Rocky movies.

“It’s not about how hard you hit, but about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward,” Sylvester Stallone’s iconic character Rocky Balboa says in the final film of the franchise.

“[It’s about] how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”

While the Manly Sea Eagles ran out 42-8 winners over the North Queensland Cowboys on Saturday night, the manner in which they won showed that perhaps they’d been paying close attention to the words of The Italian Stallion as well.

For 47 minutes of this game, the Cowboys weren’t the only ones hitting Manly: with a subpar start to their finals campaign, they were hitting themselves.

When they went a few passes wide of the ruck they moved sideways instead of forward; they got in the way of each other on set plays; and they attacked without the ruthlessness that has been their trademark all season.

The Cowboys were capitalising on Manly’s inability to fire by playing with the majority of the momentum. Time and again their forwards made a bend in the Manly defensive line and punched deep into opposition territory.

The Cowboys weren’t dominating by any stretch of the word, but they were making the most of Manly’s flat start.

Manly were first hit by a Johnathan Thurston penalty goal in the 16th minute. 12 minutes later Thurston hit them again, grubbering behind the Manly goal-line defence for left centre Willie Tonga to score.

Not long afterwards, Thurston and his partner in crime Matt Bowen almost had the Sea Eagles on the ropes once again. Another attacking raid down the left-hand side appeared to have resulted in a try to winger Kalifa Fai-Fai Loa, but Bowen’s final pass was ruled forward and the try disallowed.

Manly were lucky to be only trailing 8-0 at half-time, but there was nothing lucky about their second half.

They had taken the hits; now it was time to move forward. To the dismay of the Cowboys faithful who were sensing an upset, Manly began to fire on all cylinders and rapidly advanced.

After the forwards – led by man of the match Tony Williams, Brent Kite, Joe Galuvao and Anthony Watmough – began to set a solid platform, young halves Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran began to make their marks on the game with the fearlessness of youth and the wisdom of 10-year veterans.

First they combined from a scrum-base play to give William Hopoate a scoring opportunity in the 47th minute to bring the Cowboys’ lead back to two points.

Then less than 10 minutes later, they combined again with some smart passing to send Brett Stewart over to claim a 12-8 lead.

Cherry-Evans’ kicking game was superb: if he wasn’t setting up tries with his pinpoint bombs and grubbers, he was pressuring the Cowboys with kicks that continued to find the ground and the touchline.

In just over 30 minutes, Manly scored 42 unanswered points and left the Cowboys reeling on the canvas. It was a near-perfect second half: I can barely recall a dropped ball from the Sea Eagles.

The final 10 minutes resulted in four tries that came in a flurry and bore much resemblance to their second half blowout against the Storm in the 2008 Grand Final. With all the momentum and their confidence running high the Sea Eagles were offloading and breaking the line at will.

Man of the match Tony Williams was scattering Cowboys defenders with his strong fend and even showcased some new found playmaking skills, offering up a smooth inside ball for Stewart to score his second of the night.

Manly will take a lot out of this game, particularly from their faltering first half. It demonstrated that even when they’re not at their best they are still able to graft away and play themselves back into the contest. That is a great indication of the attitude and confidence that Manly are carrying at the moment.

Rocky would be in Manly’s corner cheering with both hands raised right now. They took the hits, kept moving forward, and when they themselves started to find their rhythm and hit their opposition, they made every one of them count.

But while Rocky may be fictional, the Sea Eagles made his message fact, and in the mind games that exist in finals football, it is a very sobering thought for every other team still alive in this competition.

MANLY SEA EAGLES 42 (Hopoate 2, Stewart 2, Watmough, Buhrer, Ballin tries; Lyon 6, Robertson goals) defeated NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS 8 (Tonga try; Thurston 2 goals)

Venue: Sydney Football Stadium

Crowd: 13, 972

Votes: 3 – Cherry-Evans (Sea Eagles), 2 – Williams (Sea Eagles), 1- Stewart (Sea Eagles)

Lindsey Cuthbertson



About Nick Tedeschi

Nick Tedeschi was the chief rugby league writer at Punting Ace for five years after a career in politics and bookmaking. He has written freelance for a number of organisations including Back Page Lead, Crikey and Betfair and now runs his own website. He writes an annual NRL betting preview and is a diehard Canterbury fan who lists Craig Polla-Mounter, David Stagg, Tony Grimaldi and Daryl Halligan as his favourite players.

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