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Manly beat Brisbane, near first NRL minor premiership in 17 years

SYDNEY -- Manly edged closer to their first minor premiership in 17 years when they beat Brisbane 16-4 during the weekend's 21st round of matches in Australia's National Rugby League.

Playmaker Kieran Foran shrugged off illness to play a vital role in the win and keep Manly two wins clear of Penrith atop the table with five rounds remaining in the regular season.

Manly and Brisbane went to halftime locked at 4-4 before the Sea Eagles broke the stalemate with a 56th minute try to Peta Hiku from a crosskick by captain Jamie Lyon.

Souths leapt into second place with a 50-10 win over Newcastle on Sunday, overtaking Penrith who beat the fifth-placed Bulldogs 22-16, while reigning premiers the Roosters beat St. George Illawarra 30-22 to fill out the top four.

North Queensland beat Gold Coast 28-8 to move up to sixth place and the New Zealand Warriors moved deeper into the top eight with a resounding 54-18 win over Canberra.

But Manly stayed ahead of the pack forming below them with a win in a match which was sometimes scrappy and below par.

Foran was a constant threat to the defensive line and his efforts ensured Manly improved its record to 14-5 in the regular season.

The minor premiership is “not the be all and end all,” Foran said. “It's just a reward for your efforts throughout the year, it'd be nice to get it I guess for the amount of effort we've put in this season.

“It would be disappointing to fall out of those spots now. We just want to cement a top four spot and give ourselves every chance going into the finals.”

Coach Geoff Toovey watched his team blow three try-scoring chances in the first half before drawing away to win.

“Let's face it, I think our game and our competition would be the toughest in any sport in any land around the place, so to finish at the end of the regular season at the top is a pretty tough thing to do,” Toovey said.

“But I don't think it's like the old days where they had a top five and the minor premiers actually got an advantage. The new system doesn't really help you out in holding up at the end.”

Alex Johnson scored three tries and Kirisome Auva'a two as the Rabbitohs crushed Newcastle to keep pressure on Manly's first placing.

Penrith briefly moved into second with a 22-16 win over the Bulldogs Saturday, then were knocked back to third by Souths' emphatic win. However, their playoff hopes took a blow as three more players joined their extensive injury list with what might be season-ending injuries.

Elijah Taylor suffered a knee ligament injury while fellow second-rower Bryce Cartwright and veteran prop Brent Kite also failed to finish the game.

Coach Trent Robinson hailed the Roosters defensive performance, though they conceded 22 points in narrowly beating St. George Illawarra.

“I wouldn't often say this, but I thought 22 points it was a really good defensive performance from us,” Robinson said.

“I thought they threw a lot, changed angles, short kicks, long balls, they had lots of different plays on us, and I thought our line stood up well for most of it.”

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