A dazzling hat-trick from centre Morgan Harper saw the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles record a crushing 44-24 win over the Wests Tigers at Suncorp Stadium tonight in round 19 of the Telstra Premiership.
It was Harper's first career hat-trick as the Sea Eagles ran in eight tries with winger Reuben Garrick kicking six from eight goals to become the 13th Manly player to pass 500 points.
With Tom Trbojevic and Daly Cherry-Evans returning to the side after being rested in last week's win over the Dragons, Manly were looking to continue their fine form against the Tigers who they beat 40-6 on Anzac Day in April.
Jake Trbojevic was also named to start at lock, making his return from injury. With his first touch of the ball, Tom Trbojevic was almost in the clear, taking the ball on the full and darting down the edge for a 30-metre run before being brought down in a desperate effort from the Tigers side.
Cherry-Evans was heavily involved with the ball, putting through a smart grubber kick to gain a repeat set before having a hand in the first try that was scored in the fifth minute.
Centre Morgan Harper gained possession after the ball was shifted to his right edge and squeezed past two defenders to score. Winger Reuben Garrick failed to convert for a 4-0 lead.
The Tigers levelled the score five minutes later through winger Ken Maumalo after a break in play from hooker Jacob Liddle. Five-eighth Adam Doueihi’s conversion attempt was successful, giving his side a 6-4 lead.
Manly did well to keep the Tigers in their own territory, pushing up out of the line in defence and chasing hard on the kick moments earlier to hold them to their 40-metre line. Despite the optimal field position, the Sea Eagles were still unable to reply as they looked to regain the lead.
With 21 minutes gone, Manly scored a stunning try through hooker Lachlan Croker. Winger Jason Saab latched onto a Cherry-Evans bomb and ran a few metres before offloading to backrower Haumole Olakau’atu, who quickly found Croker.
The crafty dummy-half got the ball and ran from inside the ten to score. Garrick made the conversion to bring the score to 10-6, taking his points tally for the season to 200 points.
The Tigers bounced back to regain the lead with Doueihi just getting over the line in the 27th minute after backing up his halves partner, Luke Brooks. The try-scorer converted his own try for a 12-10 scoreline.
Off the back of a Manly error, the Tigers looked certain to score again and further extend their lead, only to be stopped metres from the line in a last-ditch effort by Cherry-Evans and Tom Trbojevic. The referee called a penalty for an incident earlier in the set which saw forward Josh Aloiai placed on report for a dangerous tackle.
After four repeat sets inside Manly’s 20, the Tigers looked to have their third try but were again denied, this time by the combination of five-eighth Kieran Foran and Tom Trbojevic.
With four minutes to go in the half, Cherry-Evans scored under the posts after backing up second-rower Josh Schuster. Schuster changed his line with some impressive footwork and was in the clear, before finding Cherry-Evans with a perfectly timed pass to beat the full-back. Garrick was successful with his conversion attempt, bringing the score to 16-12.
In a matter of minutes, the Sea Eagles made their way down the field to score again, with Harper grabbing his second.
Tom Trbojevic made a break down the left-hand side and passed it to Brad Parker, who made the safe choice to drop and stay in the field. With a big overlap, the ball was shifted from one side of the field to the other, ending up with Harper who stepped hard off his right foot to beat the defenders. Garrick’s conversion attempt was unsuccessful with the score at 20-12 at half-time.
Early in the second half, Cherry-Evans snatched an intercept pass 35 metres out from his own line and was brought down 15 metres in a diving effort. Moments later, the ball was shifted to the left and found Tom Trbojevic who dived over for the first try five minutes into the second half. Garrick was successful with his conversion attempt, bringing the score to 26-12.
Three minutes later, they struck again with utility Dylan Walker getting on the scoresheet. Croker scooted out of dummy half and laid the ball off for Walker, who ran hard underneath him before reaching out for the try. Garrick converted the try to make the score 32-12.
The Tigers pounced and looked to get themselves back in the game through hooker Jacob Liddle, who scooped the ball up out of dummy half before diving over the line in the 54th minute. Doueihi converted for a 32-18 scoreline.
Off the kick-off, Walker was unfortunately forced from the field with a HIA after some friendly fire in the tackle.
Harper scored his third try in the 64th minute, marking his first career hat-trick. Cherry-Evans had a hand in the try for another try assist, holding the ball up well before hitting Harper with a flat ball at the line. Garrick converted from next to the posts to further extend the lead to 38-18.
Three minutes later, the flood gates appeared to be opening as Cherry-Evans found his way through the defence, stepping off his right and running at the fatigued defender to crash over to score his second try. Garrick’s conversion was successful as the Sea Eagles edged closer to 50, with the score at 44-18.
Maumalo scored his second try for the Tigers in the 71st minute. Doueihi was successful from the sideline for the 44-24 scoreline.
Tom Trbojevic had a stunning performance, leading the running metres (305m from 20 runs) and had one try, two line breaks and nine tackle breaks to his name.
Harper ran for 161m from 13 runs and had three line breaks. Cherry-Evans also had an amazing performance, scoring two tries, two try assists and running for 184m.
Hard-hitter Jake Trbojevic led the tackle count with 36 tackles, followed by Lachlan Croker (35) and Cherry-Evans (27).
The Sea Eagles play the Cronulla Sharks on Sunday August 1, at 4.05pm, at Moreton Daily Stadium, Redcliffe, in Round 20 of the NRL Telstra Premiership.