It was a close game at Brookvale on Saturday night, as the Sea Eagles and Bulldogs both came away with two tries apiece, both of them from their right wingers. Only conversions and penalty goals made the difference, bringing Manly to an eight point lead, and resulting in Rhyse Martin’s second shattering game with the boot this year, following the Dogs’ last-minute loss against Melbourne in Round 4. Meanwhile, the home team managed their most resilient win in the absence of Tom Trbojevic, Daly Cherry-Evans and Dylan Walker, with Reuben Garrick scoring every single point.
The first try from Manly came pretty quickly, following a slow peel from Lachlan Lewis. A rainbow pass from Kane Elgey in the middle of the park sent Garrick across untouched, while Garrick converted his own try a moment later. Marty Taupau and Addin Fonua-Blake made big runs to get the next set rolling, but Reimis Smith proved pretty safe under the high ball, as did Jayden Okunbur, who cleaned up the kick on the following set, and then brought the footy back into the field of play under considerable pressure a set later, forcing a leg pull from Elgey in the process.
The Bulldogs were on the verge of some serious momentum, but it was punctured by a marginally forward pass from Josh Jackson to Corey Harawira-Naera a couple of tackles later. The ex-Panther took out his frustration with a flop, and Manly chose to tap and go. It was the right decision, since they immediately replicated their opening four points – a harbour bridge pass from Elgey out to the right edge, an unimpeded putdown from Garrick, and then another two points from Garrick, who showed a new level of leadership potential during this game.
The speed of the try, and the fact it had occurred in exactly the same way as the first, suggested a torrent of Manly points would soon follow. Yet this would be the last time that the Sea Eagles crossed the chalk, depending on three penalty goals to secure their win from here. If anything, these two tries seemed to galvanise the Dogs, who scored five minutes later, thanks to a great kick contest on their right edge.
The kick came from Jack Cogger, and found Reimis Smith, Bradley Parker and Abbas Miski waiting for it in the corner. Leaping into the air above Parker and Miski, Smith tapped into the way that Lewis bends and slows time before he kicks, hanging in the air, and decelerating the pace of play, until he felt comfortable to shape the trajectory of the footy ever so slightly with his right hand. Curving the ball back into his chest, he paused for a moment, before gathering it and slamming down for four points, with the replay showing no evidence that it had made contact with Parker.Embed from Getty Images
It was Smith’s 14th try in 20 games, and was followed by Martin’s first and only conversion of the evening. About ten minutes later, the Sea Eagles came close to scoring again, thanks to an offload from Joel Thompson to Elgey, who booted the ball at speed, and followed up with the kick chase of the night, popping the footy back into play as he tumbled into touch, and initially appearing to have set up Lachlan Croker to score. Agonisingly, however, the replay showed that Elgey had indeed got a foot on the dead ball line, gifting the Dogs a seven tackle set.
A seven tackle set for the Sea Eagles shortly after proved more remunerative, as Martin took out the mounting frustration of his team with a late penalty – a slow peel that set up Garrick to take the two with seven minutes left on the clock. Yet the Dogs started a slow and steady comeback during the second stanza, starting with a spiraling kickoff that defied Brendan Elliot at the other end of the field.
While Canterbury didn’t capitalise on this early field position, and in fact conceded a repeat set to the Sea Eagles following an escorts penalty from Will Hopoate, they prevented Elgey getting the footy across to Garrick for a third time, thanks to a bone-shattering tackle from Adam Elliott and Rhyse Martin. The ball now moved back and forth for a couple of sets, with Canterbury getting their next big chance when they recovered possession at the tail end of a Cogger kick, only for Nick Meaney to be called offside.
Ten minutes in, Cogger sent the ball down to the left corner, but Brendan Elliot got there just before Martin could score the next four points. Nevertheless, it led to the first dropout of the second half, as Adam Elliott turned his aggression from defence to attack, coming close to muscling through the left edge on the second tackle, only to drop the ball in the face of a pack effort from the Sea Eagles. It rolled backwards, however, setting up Cogger to put Harawira-Naera across the line two tackles later, only for the replay to show that Corey had fumbled the footy just before grounding it.
Despite these disappointments, it was clear that the Dogs were building momentum, and that they had to score next or else concede the game to the Sea Eagles. Cogger, in particular, was stepping up as an organizer and playmaker, consolidating and capping his contributions of this second stanza with a 40/20 that gave Canterbury their next tryscoring opportunity. An escorts penalty from Parker got the Dogs a repeat shot on the line, only for Jackson to lose the footy on the third tackle, although they got the ball back pretty quickly following a second effort from Elgey on Lewis.Embed from Getty Images
After so many tryscoring formations, the Dogs had built the energy and focus to score immediately here, thanks to a rapid sweep over to the right edge of the field that saw Smith crash over to rival Garrick’s double. The fulcrum was a superb pass from Elliott to Hopoate – virtually a no-look pass – that set up Hoppa perfectly to shift the Steeden out to his winger in turn. At the tail end of so many opportunities on the Manly line, this was the most cathartic try of the night, and seemed to guarantee Canterbury the game if they just put down another four points.
Yet those four points went begging, as a missed conversion from Martin, and then two subsequent penalty goals for Garrick, ended up making the difference. Whether this was one of the hardest-won efforts of the year for Manly, or one of the softest losses of the year for Canterbury, is up for debate, since the end of the match somehow felt anticlimactic and exhausting at the same time. All in all, it was probably Manly’s most challenging game without their key playmakers, although it never felt as if the Dogs had quite settled into top gear either, or questioned the Sea Eagles as mercilessly as they could have.
Both teams will be looking for something more conclusive, then, when they travel to Suncorp for Magic Round next week. On the one hand, Manly will need to be aiming for a much more decisive victory – and more tries – when they “host” the Broncos at their regular home ground. On the other side of the Steeden, the Bulldogs will be keen to maximize their potential during this game, and Cogger’s burgeoning playmaking options, when they take on a confident Newcastle outfit on Saturday afternoon.