So I went to the Quins-Manly game at The Stoop today for the offically titled London Rugby League Challenge and had a thoroughly enjoyable day. Manly ended up running out 34-26 victors, but only after Harlequins had ran out to a 20-0 lead. Given the circumstances and the quality of the opposition, and the fact that I’ve seen them give up comparable leads in more meaningful games, I don’t think they should feel too disheartened.
Essentially the game was actually two games in one. In the first half a full-strength Quins side took on a group mostly made up of Manly reserves or usual interchange players, and certainly the backs the only real mainstays present were Michael Robertson and David Williams. Manly didn’t really offer much threat whilst Quins went through a few spells of offering loads, and wen’t 14-0 up in what seemed like a five minute period (they certainly scored off back-to-back tackles, as Manly conceded right off a kick-off when Luke Dorn went wide straight away to Will Sharp, who broke around David Williams and fed Chad Randall to go under the posts). Manly’s attack seemed devoid of any creativity and their kicking game was one-dinensional (and their ploy of putting up high bombs seemed misjudged when Jon Wells covered them all admirably). At half-time, Quins found themselves with a twenty point lead against the NRL champions.
Then I noticed Jamie Lyon, Matt Orford, Steve Matai and Brett Stewart (to name but a few) warming up (to this point having not been seen at all) and I realised that this game was far from over. Add to that the fact that Brian McDermott did the opposite, taking off several of his starters and giving some new recruits the chance to show what they could do, and it seemed like everything now ran in reverse, with Manly’s 1sts completely tearing apart the Quins 2nds. Actually, that’s not quite fair; what really impressed me about Manly was that for a side still essentially in preseason mode they were extremely clinical. Steve Matai gave Tony Clubb problems consistently, and Brett Stewart added a threat from deep missing up to that point. With Matai and Jamie Lyon both throwing out wonder passes to put people over the Quins advantage was overtaken in no time. It’s to Quins’ credit that they got a try in the second half, because the defensive effort of Manly also stepped up a few gears in the second stanza.
If Manly play like they did in the second half today in the World Club Challenge then Leeds have got a real struggle on their hands. However, if they play like they did in the first half then Leeds will rip them apart. I’m expecting them to be a lot nearer to the second half performance. As for Quins, it was hard to fault the first half but I’m sure Brian McDermott will be disappointed with the drop-off in the second half, where they did Manly a favour by being unable to maintain the defensive pressure they had applied before. Squad depth has always been an issue with Quins, although it seems a little unfair to judge this squad when the reserves suddenly had to play against a side loaded with fresh internationals.
If Leeds are looking for any potential weaknesses then I didn’t really see any in attack, as Manly exploited Quins’ defensive errors ruthlessly. In defense though they did seem a bit susceptible to the grubber kick close to the line. Manly seemed to be employing a high-octane version of the umbrella defense system, which is usually high-risk for high-reward, but it’s hard to change momentum when charging forward and Quins were even able to use the grubber kick effectively in the second half when Manly had their good players on. Nonetheless, Leeds have definitely got their hands full next Sunday.