On Saturday night Manly held off a gallant late charge from the Cowboys to claim a 24 – 20 victory ahead of North Queensland at Dairy Farmers Stadium.
Manly have now moved up into the coveted second spot on the ladder behind the Dragons, while the Cowboys continue to hang around the bottom now no. 14 with only eight competition points alongside the Sharks and the Bulldogs.
The Sea Eagles got off to a stunning start on Saturday as centre Dean Whare had the best possible debut, scoring the first three match tries with a brilliant hat-trick. He began just five minutes in and then continued with tries in the 11th and 25th minutes.
Whare got his inaugural first-grade run after injured Manly player Kieran Foran failed to pass the fitness test with his hamstring.
In-form Jamie Lyon, backing up after playing five-eighth for NSW in Wednesday’s State of Origin Game 1, converted three from three and the visitors lead 18 – 0 a little into the second quarter.
The Cowboys did manage to get one first half try in when Ashley Graham got over in the 29th minute, Thurston converting to narrow the deficit 18 – 6.
But with three minutes before half-time the Sea Eagles scored their fourth try when Michael Robertson got over and Lyon booted it through the poles giving Manly a 24 – 6 lead after the first 40.
Back from the break North Queensland came out playing with more determination and grit, stopping Manly from scoring any more points.
In a dogged final 30 minutes, the Cowboys scored three unanswered tries and came within four points of an upset. William Tupou, Ashley Graham and Luke O’Donnell scored a four-pointer each in the 54th, 62nd and 70th minutes. But as Thurston only managed to kick one out of the three and the rest of the squad passed up a number of optimal try scoring opportunities, the Cowboys narrowly lost 20 – 24.
The only sour note for Manly was Lyon sustaining an ankle injury, limping off the field less than 10 minutes into the second half, his hopes of playing in Origin Game II on June 16 now in doubt.
The struggling Cowboys look in more trouble this week when they travel to Sydney to face the Rabbitohs while the Sea Eagles play a resurgent Brisbane squad. Get behind your favourites at Ladbrokes.com.au.