ROUND 4: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v.South Sydney Rabbitohs (Lottoland, 6/4/19)

Manly have lost eight of their last nine matches at Brookvale, but were primed for a home win following the triumphant return of Tom Trbojevic against the Warriors last weekend, at what was technically a home game for the Sea Eagles in Christchurch. Meanwhile, the Rabbitohs had enjoyed an amazing pair of games against Sydney City and St. George, but had let the Titans almost get the better of them in Round 3, meaning that they were just as keen to shift back into top gear against Manly.

Manly felt like the home team from the moment they ran onto the park, dominating field possession for the first ten minutes, thanks to an epic take under the high ball from Jorge Taufua, followed by a linkup with Turbo, who broke through the line for the first big run of the afternoon. Down the other end of the field, a ball strip from Sam Burgess gave the Sea Eagles a fresh set, and Addin Fonua-Blake now came dangerously close to scoring, making the most of his proximity to the line to send an offload across to Apisai Koroisau, who passed it on to Jake Trbojevic in turn.

While Jake might have been held up by a scrambling South Sydney defence just beneath the posts, the Sea Eagles got another penalty, this time for a second effort from Cam Murray. Daly Cherry-Evans now stepped into the spotlight to dummy, run, spin and then offload to Jake. Even more second phase play then ensued, as Kane Elgey popped an offload out to Thompson, only for the ex-Dragon to send it back inside, where Murray was able to clean it up and regain possession.

Manly got another set almost immediately, due to yet another error from South Sydney, and on the third tackle the Steeden ricocheted off DCE’s chest, only for it be deemed backwards, allowing play to continue. Seconds later, DCE kicked, only for the ball to be knocked on by Thompson in goal under some big pressure from Adam Reynolds and Alex Johnston. The Bunnies had stayed strong with their defence, and were now rewarded with a seven tackle let, but they didn’t even get to the kick, as Sam Burgess flicked the footy over the sideline while trying to shift it out to Dane Gagai and Corey Allan.

Clearly, the Sea Eagles were dominating the offloads, but the Bunnies were let off from the full implications of Burgess’ error when Marty Taupau made a mistake deep into the following set. This was only a momentary lull for the Sea Eagles, however, as a pair of huge runs from Fonua-Blake and Thompson combined to set up Turbo for a reprisal of his huge opening dash – this time a little further up the field, and a little closer to the left corner of the Manly attack.

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Turbo’s resounding return against the Warriors was condensed into this spectacular play, which saw his superhuman footwork turn Gagai inside out before he launched himself at Johnston, crashing the South Sydney fullback to ground before reaching out an arm to slam down the Steeden beside him. In slow motion, it looked gladiatorial, a sign that the Sea Eagles had picked up right where they left off in Round 3, especially when DCE booted through the extras as elegantly as ever.

Their momentum came to an abrupt end, however, when Brad Parker lost the footy on the restart, thanks to a big tackle from Gagai, who was clearly frustrated at having let Turbo through. While Murray now lost the footy on the first tackle, the call went South Sydney’s way, as Jake Trbojevic was pinged for a ball strip, and the Bunnies got another shot on the line. Tom Burgess then lost the ball on the third, and then Elgey lost it on the first, a sign that the hot conditions were starting to get the best of both teams, with the Sea Eagles struggling to defend while playing into the sun, and the Bunnies finding themselves undercut by the slick on the football.

The biggest casualty of this whole sequence was Tom Burgess, who was taken off for an HIA shortly before Taupau made his second handling error of the game. Moments later, the Bunnies got a much-needed repeat set when a Walker kick was knocked on by Brendan Elliot, as they started to glimpse the accumulated field position that the Sea Eagles had enjoyed in the first ten minutes of the match.

On the fourth tackle of the next set, Damien Cook passed a short ball to Junior Tatola right on the line, where the ex-Tiger was only just held up by three Manly defenders. The tackle count now restarted after another great play from Cook, with Murray slamming through the defence on the first tackle, and actually making his way over the line, only for Taupau to come in for a second effort, and virtually hold him in the air, while sitting on the ground, to prevent the Bunnies scoring then and there.

On the next tackle, Walker showed some terrific leadership, collecting the footy and moving out to the left edge, only to sense that there wasn’t enough space, and so run along the face of the Manly defence, dodging in front of about seven players, before shifting it out to Sam Burgess back over on the right. With Reynolds adding the extras the two teams were neck and neck, and while Walker may have almost fumbled the footy on the restart, the Bunnies dug in on the next set, desperate to make it a double.

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A weird passage of play ensued a couple of sets later, culminating with South Sydney botching a four on two opportunity to miss what would have been a certain try if Corey Allan hadn’t sent a forward pass out to the left edge of their attack. While the Bunnies did get a penalty from it all, Reynolds didn’t get the ball through the posts, keeping it to a six-all scoreboard as the minutes started to count down to half time.

Four minutes out from the siren, Walker shifted the play to the left edge of the field as elegantly as he’d moved it to the right for Burgess’ previous try. This time, there was space for him to pass it out to Campbell Graham, who ricocheted off the right edge of the Manly defence before coming to ground beneath Elliot for his fifth try of the year so far. It wasn’t a great start with the boot from Reynolds, who missed this kick as well, but the Bunnies still headed into the break with a four point lead.

The Sea Eagles got a big blow a minute into the second half, when Turbo’s hamstring gave way, forcing Manly to face the next forty minutes without their only tryscorer. A pair of errors from Manase Fainu and Reuben Garrick followed suit, but the Bunnies didn’t manage to capitalise upon Turbo’s absence, even if Manly’s luck also seemed to be waning. Eight minutes in, Taupau ducked his head into George Burgess and went to ground, in enough discomfort to be taken off the field a minute later.

From there, the Rabbitohs started to accrue some field position, starting with a one-on-one strip from Walker on Sironen midway through the next Manly set, and bolstered by an error from Toafofoa Sipley at the start of the following Manly set. Collecting an offload from Walker on the left edge, Walker dummied, ran and tried to pass the footy onto Graham, only for a barnstorming defensive effort to bundle them both over the sideline.

This defensive energy spilled over into the next passage of play, as Jake Trbojevic stepped up in his brother’s absence for a massive tackle on Graham that sent the football spinning onto the ground, where Manase Fainu picked it up, danced out of a low tackle from Johnston, and slammed down four more points. The Bunnies barely knew what had hit them, so sudden and strong was Jake’s tackle – a statement of purpose that recalled some of Latrell Mitchell and Greg Ingis’ big Origin efforts.

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The celebrations didn’t last long, however, as Manly gave the ball back on the restart. Gagai almost crossed over on the third tackle, while Reynolds made his way out to the left edge on the fourth, where he opted for a quick play-the-ball to send the Steeden back inside. For a moment, the Bunnies seemed to be consolidating, only for Jack Turbo to come up with another terrific defensive play, scooping up the footy after it came to ground in the South Sydney maelstrom.

The next big South Sydney chance was a huge run from Murray, who danced through several lines of defence before Elliot got him by the collar right on the line, with DCE slamming in to make sure that he didn’t reach out a hand and score. Moments later, the Sea Eagles defied the Bunnies’ last tackle option to bring the footy back over the line, but at the expense of an offside penalty, giving Reynolds the chance to kick for an even scoreline.

Amazingly, Reyno missed this kick as well, before passing the ball to the ground towards the end of the next South Sydney set, where it was knocked on by Sutton. Taupau now returned to the field, while DCE stepped up for the big run he’d needed to enact ever since Turbo had been taken from the park. Moving up through the middle of the ruck, Daly changed direction abruptly to shift around behind Reynolds, leaving the South Sydney defence in his ruck as he set up the next passage of play.

Moments later, DCE sent a harbor bridge pass to the left edge, where the ball was taken by Corey Allan at speed, for what would have been a superb intercept try had Sutton not got a hand to it along the way. The result was a scrum feed for the Sea Eagles, with Taupau showing his mettle by taking the first tackle, before DCE sent the footy left once again, where Elgey straightened the play only to fumble the football under pressure from Ethan Lowe.

A fumble from Jacob Gagan following a pass from Sam Burgess meant that the Sea Eagles got the ball back again pretty quickly, only for Elgey to respond with a forwatd pass at the end of the next Manly set. It was starting to feel as if the scoreline might stay locked at 12-10 for the rest of the game unless someone made a breakout play. The most recent opportunity had Allan’s near-intercept try, and while both teams would come agonizingly close over the final two minutes, the only points scored were a penalty kick that Reynolds added after Thompson was put on report for tripping.

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Twenty seconds out from the siren, Reynolds opted for a field goal. His poor kicking game reached its very nadir here, as the footy ricocheted off the posts. To make matters worse, George Burgess was called offside, leading to some heated words between Sam Burgess and the referee, and another chance for the Sea Eagles. Five seconds out, DCE also went for a one-pointer, and also missed it, taking us into golden point for the second time this round following the Panthers-Tigers clash the night before.

Three minutes in, Reynolds went for yet another field goal, only for the footy to fade away to the right, costing his team a seven tackle set. That was more than enough for the Sea Eagles to make their way to the other end of the field, where DCE put in one of the best field goals of the last couple of years, booting the ball just before Murray got to him, and as Burgess was coming in from the right, making this an even more cathartic and emotional win than the decimation of the Warriors last week.

This may well be the most resilient performance by any team this year, and should galvanise the Sea Eagles as they prepare to take on the Knights in Newcastle next week. On the other side of the Steeden, the Bunnies have suffered their first loss of the season, and combined with their near-loss to the Titans this has made for a bit of a sophomore slump following their stunning start to the year. They’ll therefore be looking for a big win – and a more consistent game from Reynolds – when they take on the Warriors at Sunshine Coast Stadium next Saturday afternoon.

About Billy Stevenson (488 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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