Kotoni kills off Shoremen

By Adam Lucius

Manly players have made a pact to extend their winning run all the way to the end of the regular season to ensure they secure a break in the first week of the finals.

After seeing off Northern Suburbs 34-29 in a see-sawing affair at North Sydney Oval on Saturday, the second-placed Marlins immediately turned their attention to a critical three-week period in which they will play three teams either in the top six or just outside.

They host seventh-placed Southern Districts next Saturday before taking on Sydney Uni (third) and Randwick (fifth).

Manly are two points ahead of the Students, with the August 28 clash at Uni Oval shaping as the pivotal match.

If the Marlins finish in the top two they will go straight through to week two of the play-offs and the grand final qualifier.       

"We've spoken a lot about staying in that top two so we get the week off in the first week of the finals," breakaway Kotoni Ale said minutes after his man-of-the-match performance against Norths.

"The run home is not easy but the good thing is it's all in our hands.

"If we win them all then we stay second.

"That's why (Norths) was an important win. It was a good effort from all the boys."

The lead changed hands four times in an entertaining match at North Sydney Oval but in the end the better side came out on top.

Manly scored five tries to two and overcame a heavy 12-4 penalty count against them en route to their fourth straight win.

They led 14-0 early before handing Norths points and finding themselves down 20-19 at the break.

The Shoremen extended their advantage with a penalty goal just after the interval before Ale stepped up to centre stage.

He scored on 53 minutes and just moments later turned acrobat to break clear down the right and dance away from the sideline before passing inside for Jacob Woodhouse to score.

Manly stayed in front for the rest of the game despite two more Norths penalties eating away at their' advantage.

Woodhouse (2), Ale, James Hilterbrand and Ben Seymour were the try scorers.

"We're down on troops at the moment so every win we get in this period is invaluable," Manly coach Tim Lane said.

"We gifted them points through two soft tries but overall it was a very good performance.

"Kotoni was outstanding and so was 'Cecil' (James Hilterbrand) at tight head. All the forwards were very good."

Looking ahead at the tough run home, Lane continued: "We have got ourselves in a good position and the ball is now in our court.

"We've got eight guys away or unavailable but we will slowly start to get a few of them back over the next couple of weeks.

"The Uni game looms as the big one but we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves."

 

Souths gone, Students next

By Adam Lucius

Back at the start of the 2011 season, Manly coach Tim Lane was asked how long he expected it to take before his new-look side fully gelled.

"Round 16," came the instant reply.

At the time the comment raised a few eyebrows as it appeared a rather conservative view.

But Lane quite clearly knew what he was talking about.

Manly are undefeated since - you guessed it - round 16.

They have won five in a row to sit second on the table with two rounds remaining.

The impressive 31-12 win over Southern Districts at Manly Oval on Saturday guarantees the Marlins will finish the regular season either second or third.

It all comes down to next Saturday's clash against third-placed Uni.

Win that and Manly will finish second and get the first week of the finals off.

"We needed to go into Uni with a strong performance under our belt and we did that," breakaway Michael Hooper said after the four tries to two victory over Souths.

"It was a nervous win - we were down at half-time - but we got some good phases going and played for the whole 80.

"We're playing some our best football at the right time of the year."  

Lock Ed Gower got the Marlins going in the right direction after 10 minutes, wrestling his way over the line.

Ben Seymour's penalty on 21 minutes made it 10-0 before two soft Souths try prior to the break handed the Rebels an unexpected 12-10 half-time lead.

It was the wake-up call the home side needed.

They dominated the second half, with three tries between the Hooper brothers sealing a tremendous win.   

The final five-pointer - and the ensuing bonus point - came a good minute or so after the fulltime bell following some terrific work from loose head prop Dane Maraki.

Showing great skills for a big man, the Kiwi intercepted a pass on halfway, batting the ball up in the air and regaining before taking off downfield.

Cornered by the cover, Maraki cleverly kicked infield for his chasers.

The Marlins claimed the ball and from the breakdown the ball went wide for Seymour to send a long cut-out pass, allowing winger Richard Hooper to score with an elaborate swan dive.

It brought the house down among the Village Green faithful.

"They were pretty tough but structurally it was our best game of the season," skipper Chris Cottee declared.

"Everyone had a simple job and that was to go forward with aggression.

"I think everyone did that well."

Lane added: "There was a lot of talk about next week but we had to get through Souths first and we did it in good style.

"We've just got to keep working away at a few little things.

"Defensively we were very good."

The only negative was a shoulder injury to towering centre Peter Gilmore.

On the plus side, the Marlins should get a host of Super Rugby players back for the trip to Uni Oval.

The Students may be without five players - Berrick Barnes, Nick Phibbs, Ben McCutcheon, Dave Dennis and Dean Mumm - after they were all named in the Australian Barbarians team to meet Canada on the Gold Coast Friday night.

Marlins facing Super Uni side

By Adam Lucius

 

Seven consecutive wins, rep players as far as the eye can see, home ground advantage, six straight premierships - they are just four reasons Sydney University will start Saturday's match against Manly as the warmest of favourites.

But the Marlins aren't about to lie down for the Shute Shield aristocrats in a match that will decide second spot and a week off in the first week of the finals.

It will also be the day the club championship is decided along with a host of lower grade and Colts semi-final positions.

After stringing together a winning run of their own - five straight - with a side knocked around by injury and rep call-ups, Manly have hit form at the right time of the year.

And in a huge boost ahead of the trip to Uni Oval, the visitors get Melbourne Rebels forwards Eddie Aholelei and Cadeyrn Neville back along with Brumbies centres Andrew Smith and Robbie Coleman.

And they meet a Students side missing a plethora of Wallabies and Australian Barbarians.

Still, the task is enormous.     

Uni will still field a team containing Dean Mumm, Phil Waugh, Daniel Halangahu, Jeremy Tilse and Tom Carter.

"We've had this one circled for a while and we'll need to go in all guns blazing," breakaway Michael Hooper said.

"If you beat Sydney Uni before going into the finals then it obviously gives you an awesome lift.

"We're playing some of our best football of the year.

"We're looking good and really looking forward to Saturday."

Manly beat Uni 25-19 back in round 10 in arguably the game of the season.

The TMO was called into action after the fulltime bell and asked to adjudicate on a possible Uni try next to the sticks.

The verdict went the Marlins' way and the mob on the hill erupted.

Manly coach Tim Lane claims he hasn't dwelled on that result or become fixated with Uni's progress since.    

"I am not too worried about what they have done to other sides," he said matter-of-factly.

"As long as we go over there and have a dig I will be happy.

"To get that extra week off and get a bit more breathing space would be great."

Captain Chris Cottee added: "It's a massive game. We want to win to try and keep second and to keep the winning momentum going."

"If we stay with our structures then that will go along towards winning."

We'd give you Uni coach Todd Louden's thoughts on the game but he's obviously been too busy or too plain important to bother responding.

Despite trying to get him via phone, text or email since Monday, Louden hasn't bothered replying.

Maybe he'll have a bit to talk about come 5pm Saturday.