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Match Report - Round 5 2003

Manly purge demons by routing woeful Dragons

By Brad Walter - www.smh.com.au
14 April 2003

After watching Manly respond to a week of turmoil with an emotion-charged win over St George Illawarra at WIN Stadium yesterday, Dragons coach Nathan Brown shook hands with his Sea Eagles counterpart Peter Sharp and said: "Congratulations, I'm the new you."

While it is unlikely that there will be anyone calling for Brown's head just four games into the Dragons' top job, almost everything else about the match was a mirror image of Manly's thrashing by Wests Tigers last Sunday, even the scoreline was identical.

The Sea Eagles' 38-12 loss to the Tigers was derided as one of the former glamour club's most hapless.

With St George and Illawarra merging only in 1999, Brown's suggestion that yesterday's loss was the worst in the joint venture's history was just as credible.

"Manly came here to be beaten today, they didn't come here as a real confident footy side but we helped them to get their confidence back," Brown said.

"If Manly had played to their potential today they would have put us away a lot earlier than they did, but they were playing with no confidence."

Yet even as Dragons hooker Mark Riddell was lining up the conversion attempt of Matt Cooper's 54th-minute try to level the scores at 12-12, it was clear the home side was struggling to match the Sea Eagles in passion.

Every time they forced an error in the second half, the Manly players would come together in a huddle and back-slap, high five or hug each other.

Brown, frustrated that his message to keep play simple and be patient was being ignored, ran down a maze of stairs and walkways from the coach's box to the sideline.

Calling skipper Trent Barrett, forward leader Lance Thompson and playmaker Brent Firman over while Riddell landed the goal, the 29-year-old coach gestured wildly as he remonstrated with the trio and struck Barrett in the face.

Then as Thompson went to walk away, he jerked him back by the jersey - drawing applause from the 13,150-strong crowd after a mistake-ridden performance by the red-haired second-rower.

"I shouldn't have tapped Baz [Barrett]," Brown said. "It wasn't part of the plan, it just happened. That's probably a bit of my inexperience, but we all live and learn.

"We got in a situation to win that game and I suppose whether you call it panic, we just didn't have anyone to say a basic play will get us out of trouble.

"Under pressure we just came up with poor options, we didn't play with any control. That was me showing that I was probably a bit poor under pressure, too. I probably can't expect them to be good under pressure if I was going to be a bit silly, too."

From then on, things only worsened for the Dragons. First Ben Walker scored, then, when halfback Jason Ferris swooped on a Chad Randall grubber kick in the 68th minute to put Manly ahead 22-12, the visitors reacted as though they'd just won a grand final.

Walker's second try only two minutes later ended with almost the entire team piling on top of him under the goal posts. When winger John Hopoate ran 80 metres to score from an intercept on full-time, even Sharp got in on the fist-pumping act near the players' tunnel.

"We played like statutes last week and didn't look like we were enjoying our footy," Sharp said. "We were, but we just needed to show it because it's an emotional game.

"It's been a very emotional week for everybody in the club, so to get our nose through the other side of it is very, very pleasing, and very satisfying."

With the heat now off Manly and South Sydney, Brown and skipper Trent Barrett are bracing for a week of criticism.

"I'm the new Peter Sharp and he's the new Steve Menzies, that's what we were just saying then," Brown said as he and Barrett followed Sharp and Menzies into the post-match press conference.

"That's what it's going to be like tomorrow," Brown said, "and that's what I said to Sharpy: 'I'm the new you'.

"But if it was that easy there would be 800 coaches and 800 football sides, and I'm sure Trent and Lance Thompson and those guys will bounce back because they're great players and I imagine the pressure will make them stand up better next week."

Barrett added: "We've done a Manly and we're going to have a week like that, I expect."

Manly Sea Eagles 38
(Tries: Walker 2, MacDougall, Watmough, Ferris, Randall, Hopoate. Goals: Ferris 2/3, Walker 3/5)

St George Illawarra 12
(Tries: Kite, Cooper. Goals: Riddell 2/3)

TEAM:

1 Brendon REEVES
2 Scott DONALD
3 Kevin McGUINNESS
4 Ben MACDOUGALL
5 John HOPOATE
6 Luke DORN
7 Jason FERRIS
8 Jason KING
9 Chad RANDALL
10 Danny LIMA
11 Mark SHIPWAY
12 Anthony WATMOUGH
13 Steven MENZIES (C)

14 Aaron CANNINGS
15 Tony JENSEN
16 Ben WALKER
17 Solomon HAUMONO