The Sea Eagles only got a close win over the Bulldogs in Round 8, but were unable to keep firing without their main men when they took on the Broncos at Suncorp for what was technically a Manly home fixture in the third match of Magic Round. They made a pretty good show of it over the first stanza, keeping Brisbane from scoring until the final five minutes, but they couldn’t sustain their momentum over the back forty, allowing the “away” team to come away with a sixteen point victory.
The game started quite convulsively for both sides, with a high tackle from Jake Turpin on Bradley Parker giving Manly some early field position, only for Reuben Garrick to throw a falcon at Jack Gosiewski and grant Brisbane the scrum feed. Unfortunately for Suncorp regulars, Gehamat Shibasaki turned the footy over on the first tackle, while another error from Kotoni Staggs got the Sea Eagles even more possession, setting up Apisai Koroisau to dash over out of dummy half on the fourth.
It was a damning moment for Darius Boyd, who went to the wrong side of the play, where he was unable to cope without the assistance of Anthony Milford, who was still scrambling to get out of the last tackle. Without the Brisbane fullback as last line of defence, Koroisau was able to get away from Matt Lodge for the first four points of the night. It wasn’t a great start for the Broncos, who had only had 24% of possession, and hadn’t got a single tackle in Manly’s half, by the ten minute mark.
The Sea Eagles got their next big chance twenty minutes in, when Abbas Miski scooped up the footy at the end of a big kick from Milford, and ran about forty metres back up the field. Three tackles later, he actually crossed over on the left edge, but was called back after Parker was pinged for an obstruction, before knocking on a Tom Dearden grubber at the end of the next Brisbane set, under considerable pressure from one of the biggest kick chases of the evening so far.
Milford tried to force a dropout on the next set, but kicked at the wrong time, and set up Lodge for an obstruction, giving the Sea Eagles another shot at the line. A brief pause now ensued, after Marty Taupau was whipped in the eye with one of his own braids, before Kane Elgey opted for a big kick from twenty-five metres out. It caught Boyd on the inside, and forced him to boot the ball almost as hard, resulting in a dropout for Manly and even more pressure for the Brisbane forward pack.Embed from Getty Images
Nevertheless, the Broncos started to regather as Manly tried and failed to put down a second try, especially once the Sea Eagles’ bench was further depleted by the loss of both their centres – Moses Suli with a finger dislocation, and Brad Parker for an HIA. Frustration started to mount as Miski had a second try called back, off a huge harbor bridge pass from Elgey that floated forward on its way out to the left wing.
While Miski responded with a good take under the high ball at the end of the next Brisbane set, the momentum had started to shift back in the Broncos’ direction. A bomb from Milford, a slow peel from Morgan Boyle, and a couple of defensive misreads on the Sea Eagles’ right edge set up Staggs to almost reach the line about five minutes out from the siren, before Milford crossed over a tackle later, thanks to a rapid dummy half play from Alex Glenn. Milf’s double right step was spectacular, gaining him his first try of the year, and getting Ben Cummins his second falcon of the night when the Brisbane half accidentally threw the Steeden into his head.
Despite a good opening from the Sea Eagles, then, the score had been levelled at 6-6 by the time both teams headed into the sheds, while the Broncos had done a pretty good job of eroding Manly’s opening advantage. They had the chance to reset the match when they returned to the park, and they made the most of it, with Boyd sending a soaring pass across for Oates to put down another four points, while taking advantage of Gosiewski’s relative unfamiliarity in the centre postion.
It was exactly the right way for Brisbane to steer the ship – a classic Boyd-Oates combination, and a moment of fullback leadership from Boyd after his spotty first half, which had seemed to condense and expose so many of the questions that have been raised around his form so far this year. In order to recapture their opening rhythm, the Sea Eagles had to be the next to score, but it was Matt Gillett who slid over fifteen minutes in, running through a massive gap in the line to ground a Milford grubber directly beneath the posts.
Staggs now added the second conversion for the Broncos to notch up the biggest lead so far. They got some heartbreak twenty minutes in, however, when Jack Bird went down with what has subsequently been confirmed as an ACL injury, shortening his season for the second successive year. Four tackles later, Oates almost scored in the corner, as Garrick attempted and failed to drag him into touch, only for Gosiewski to execute a follow-up effort to prevent the try being put down.Embed from Getty Images
The Broncos made good on the next set, after a fourth tackle penalty from Jake Turbo for a slow peel, while the Sea Eagles’ injury woes took another big blow when Toafofoa Sipley was stretchered from the field with what appeared to be a broken leg. Suli was still off the park, while Koroisai had been removed for a calf strain, resulting in what may well be the nadir of the Manly season in terms of their escalating injury count.
Despite the shock of losing Bird, the Broncos couldn’t help but benefit from the Sea Eagles’ struggles, and sure enough Dearden and Milford came up with their most elegant halves pairing to date shortly after – a wide ball from Dearden across the front of the ruck that set up Milford for a concise, compact kick that sat up perfectly for Boyd to gather it into his chest and slam to ground. With Milford and Boyd both scoring their first tries of 2019 back to back, the Broncos finally seemed to have found the energy – or the consistent energy – that has eluded them all year.
It was paramount, then, that the Sea Eagles score the next try, and come up with a big play to do so. Ideally, their next four points would also replicate the simplicity and elegance of Boyd’s four points. All of those boxes were ticked about ten minutes out from the siren, when a rapid shift to the right saw the Steeden move through Elgey, Elliot and Sironen, before Gosiewski got on the outside of David Fifita, and scrambled over a low tackle from Boyd to reach out a hand and slam the footy to ground.
With Garrick’s kick ricocheting off the right post, however, the Sea Eagles remained on ten points. Five minutes from the end, Oates made the most spectacular linebreak of the night, and Manly never really recovered, allowing Fifita to slam over at close range for a 10-26 win once Staggs missed the conversion. It was unthinkable that the Broncos would lose at Suncorp during Magic Round, so this was a critical rallying-point for Brisbane as they prepare to take on the Roosters at Suncorp as the home team next week.
On the other side of the Steeden, Manly will be keen for a win when they rock up at Cronulla to take on the Sharks on Sunday afternoon. More generally, they’ve got a real challenge ahead of them with so many of their players injured or below par. When Elliot went down for a moment towards the end of the second stanza, it begged the question of how the Sea Eagles will cope with even one or two more injuries, so they’re going to have to refine their contingency plan over the next couple of weeks too.