ROUND 3: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v. New Zealand Warriors (Christchurch Stadium, 30/3/19)

The Sea Eagles made up for two disappointing starts to the season with a whopping 46-12 win over the Warriors at Christchurch on Saturday afternoon, in what was technically a Manly-Warringah home game. You couldn’t have asked for a better demonstration of Tom Trbojevic’s value to the team, as the wiry fullback put down the first try for the home side after his return to the NRL, and proved critical in both their defence and attack as they kept New Zealand to only two tries.

Not surprisingly, the Warriors felt like the home team in the first part of the game, and seemed to have a home advantage, scoring the opening try only a couple of minutes in. It occurred at the end of a fairly pedestrian set, and following a fairly average kick from Adam Keighram, who deflected the Steeden off his left boot under considerable pressure from the defence. The Sea Eagles didn’t think much of it, leaving them exposed when Bunty Afoa popped the ball back to Issac Luke.

From there, Luke collected the footy, offloaded and started a rapid push towards the right edge of the field, where Isaiah Papali’i ended up with possession. Papali’i now went for a second kick, dropping the footy onto his left boot just before Joel Thompson could make contact, and grubbering it forward. With the bounce sitting up awkwardly for Turbo, Papali’i was able to lunge ahead and regather the ball into his chest, coming to ground beneath Reuben Garrick for a rousing New Zealand opening.

It wasn’t a great start for Turbo, but things would change once the Sea Eagles made their first try. They took a while to get there, however, allowing the high ball to bounce again at the end of the restart, where it was tapped back once again, leading to another movement towards the right from the Warriors. This time, however, Jorge Taufua was able to clean up the play, and the Sea Eagles marched back down the field, helped by an offside penalty from Isaac Luke.

For a moment, they looked set to score, only for an error from Addin Fonua-Blake to momentarily quash their momentum. At the other end of the field, the Warriors came up with yet another dangerous last tackle option, following an offload to Tohu Harris and a better kick from Keighran, with only a heroic leap from Taufua right on the line preventing the Warriors getting another tryscoring opportunity on their right edge.

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Taufua got the ball across to Turbo as soon as he could, allowing the Manly fullback to start the most scintillating passage of play so far from the home team. A harbor bridge pass from Daly Cherry-Evans got Garrick some space on the right edge of the feld, where he eluded a tackle before shifting the play back to the inside. While Marty Taupau might have lost a pass from Curtis Sironen, it rolled backwards, giving the Sea Eagles time for a last tackle-kick, even if Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was able to clean it up without much effort.

By this stage, it was becoming clear that Manly were the best team on the park, and had the potential to run rings around the Warriors if they only managed to get their act together. What they needed was a breakout performance from one player, or a piece of good luck that would hand them the next try. They got both on the next set, as a kick from Solomone Kata on the short side skittled straight through Turbo’s legs. Not only did the Steeden not touch Turbo on its way through, but it bounced too quickly into touch for the Warriors to put any real pressure on him in the process.

This was the lucky moment that Manly needed, and they now proceeded to make their way back down the field in two tackles, thanks to some deft footwork from Taufua and DCE, followed by a well-timed offload from Thompson midway up the field. Five metres out from the line, Turbo found himself with the footy, put his head down and burrowed through RTS and Luke for the first four points for the Sea Eagles.

You couldn’t have asked for a better assertion of leadership from Turbo – good enough to get Manly into a tryscoring groove that lasted the rest of the game. Moments later, Turbo went from tryscorer to try assister, on the back of a deft right foot step from Fonua-Blake followed by an offload on the ground – the sixth of the night from the Sea Eagles, who were beating the Warriors at their own game with the vision and dexterity of their second phase play.

From there, Turbo burst into open space, before popping the ball back inside to DCE for four more points. Syncing back into the spine seamlessly, Turbo had restored the team’s fluidity, and his halfback seemed to feel it too, sailing over with a calm serenity that we didn’t really see from him during the first two games of 2019. Like a game of musical chairs, DCE now went from scorer to assister, booting through a last-tackle kick that paved the way for a magnificent show of strength from Thompson.

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Chasing down the kick with his hardest run of the night, the ex-Dragon was momentarily obstructed by Kata, meaning that when he arrived at the ball, in front of David Fusitua, he seemed to be in considerable discomfort. The shoulder issue got worse when he gathered up the footy and slammed to ground, and it seemed as if he might not be able to actually roll over and make contact with the turf, since the speed of the play meant that his shoulder pain hadn’t had any real time to subside.

In slow motion, however, this turned out to be the most heroic try of the game, since Thompson had indeed managed to score the points, wincing as he got the footy to grass just before he crashed on to the dead ball line. He was fine a minute later, celebrating his 54th try as DCE booted through the extras to put the Sea Eagles two converted tries ahead, and capping off their most triumphant passage of play so far this year.

Manly had scored these three tries so quickly and effortlessly that it was now urgent that the Warriors put down four or six more points of their own. For a moment, they seemed set to concede four more, following a linebreak from Brad Parker, but a terrific chase from Kata disheveled and halted the Manly attack, which ended with an overlong kick from DCE that bounced into touch without the Warriors needing to apply too much pressure. New Zealand now consolidated, making it to the Manly ten on the first tackle, where RTS almost broke through the line on the right edge before shifting the play back inside with his trademark speed and dexterity.

A tackle later, Luke responded to Turbo’s opening short-range effort, popping the footy over to Adam Blair right on the line, before circling around to regather it and slam through Kane Elgey for another four points. After Papali’i’s opening try, and after such a terrific display of synergy from DCE and Turbo, it was critical that the New Zealand spine respond in some way, so this double-header from RTS and Luke – and double effort from Luke himself – were critical for restoring New Zealand’s self-belief.

Nevertheless, these would turn out to be the last points of the night for the Warriors, who wouldn’t even notch up a penalty kick to their name by the time that Manly coasted off the park with forty-six points – almost twice as many they scored in their opening games against the Tigers and Roosters combined. This was the Manly outfit that we saw flexing their muscles during the last third of the game against the Chooks last weekend – the team that could have won against the Tricolors with ten more minutes on the park – and with Turbo back on the team they were ready to roll.

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The Warriors got their last big tryscoring opportunity in the second half following an incredible linebreak and run from RTS – his best of the night – that took him to the right corner of the New Zealand attack, where he lost the footy under some scrambling pressure from Turbo and Taufua. Unfortunately, this was followed by the worst call of the night, and one of the worst calls of the 2019 season, as the ref pinged Taufua for a ball strip, despite the fact that RTS had clearly lost it in the midst of the tackle.

Yet this just showed that the Sea Eagles were able to withstand bad calls – or that the Warriors were unable to capitalise upon them. The set ended with a Blake Green kick to the left of the field, followed by a Keighran kick to the left, where Garrick cleaned up the footy in goal, getting the Sea Eagles seven tackles to satiate them after the bad call on RTS. They wouldn’t cross over this time, thanks to an error from Moses Suli, but the momentum had shifted remarkably quickly after such an advantageous call for the Warriors, and continued to shift following an error from Jazz Tevaga and an offside penalty for Peta Hiku.

Three minutes out from the siren, this culminated with Manase Fainu crossing over off the back of yet another Manly offload, this time from Toafofoa Sipley. Despite the prevalence of second phase play, New Zealand didn’t seem prepared when the big prop popped the ball back to Fainu five metres out from the line. Perhaps it was because Sipley seemed to be adequately contained perhaps it was because Fainu seemed to be waiting behind him for dummy half duties, and was thus disregarded as an offload threat, or perhaps it was simply because the Warriors’ big men were exhausted.

Whatever the reason, the Warriors were caught napping when Fainu collected the football from Sipley, allowing him to execute an impressive short-range play. Clutching the Steeden into his chest, he dummied to the right, and looked as if he might actually be considering a short pass, before deciding to back himself and crash to ground beneath Harris for the last four points of the first stanza.

The Warriors mounted a resurgence during the first fifteen minutes of the second half, dominating possession and field position – as they had to in order to avoid a runaway victory from the home team. The nadir for Manly was a dropped ball from Parker at the fifty-five minute mark, but this low point provided them with the impetus they needed to return to their tryscoring flow of the first forty minutes, starting with a second try from Daly Cherry-Evans.

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It came off a forward pass from RTS, which paved the way for all four of the Manly tryscorers to recapitulate the rhythm of their opening surge of points. Thompson laid the platform, Fainu passed inside to Turbo, and then Turbo broke through the line to pop the footy across to DCE, who was elated for his second try of the night. The Warriors had enjoyed ten sets and 73% of possession in the second half, but the Sea Eagles had still been the first to score, reshaping the last fifteen minutes as a masterpiece of Manly defence, rather than an achievement of the Warriors’ attack.

No surprise, then, that DCE was now on fire, making a huge run and tackle up the right edge early in the next set, which was followed by a barnstorming short-range effort from Suli. With an offside penalty from RTS to contain him, and then some crowding from Paasi early in the following set, DCE booted through two more points for good measure, but this was far from the end of the pointscoring surge, and far from the end of DCE’s impeccable display with the boot.

At the end of the next Manly set, a last tackle kick from DCE ricocheted off the defence so perfectly that it looked as if Daly had deliberately set it up that way. Turbo collected the footy in one hand on the first bounce, sliding past Afoa and coming to ground under RTS, close to tears at the way he and his team had managed to turn such sustained period of New Zealand attack around. If his opening try had affirmed his leadership, then it was bookended now by sheer vision and tenacity, taking the Sea Eagles to a sixteen point lead once DCE booted through the extras.

The first two rounds of football felt like a distant memory for Manly when they crossed over next, ten minutes out from the siren. For the first time in the night, they made the most of their momentum on the left edge, as DCE moved the footy over to that side of the field, where Parker broke through a tackle from Fusitua to get the ball across to Taufua for arguably the easiest four points of the night for Manly, thanks to the worst defence from the Warriors so far this year.

A final try from Garrick two minutes out from the end cemented this rapid closing acceleration of points from the Sea Eagles, who had bookended the match with two of their best tryscoring sequences over the last few years of football. DCE and Turbo have never looked better together, and will be keen to make the most of that magic when they take on the Bunnies back at Brookvale on Saturday afternoon. On the other side of the Steeden, this was a pretty sobering moment for the Warriors, who will be looking to make the most of a home ground advantage when they meet with Gold Coast, still hungry for their first win of the 2019 season, at Mt Smart on Friday.

About Billy Stevenson (508 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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