ROUND 11: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v. Gold Coast Titans (Lottoland, 24/5/19)

The Titans were coming off four straight losses following their Round 6 win over the Knights, while Manly were fresh off a ten point win over Cronulla after losing to Brisbane in Magic Round, when they met at Fortress Brookvale for the second match of Round 11. Kane Elgey had just enjoyed one of his best games since relocating from the Gold Coast, Cade Cust had dazzled on debut at five-eighth, and Manly had the home advantage, so it was a bit of a shock when Gold Coast ended up putting 36 points on the Sea Eagles – especially since the boys from the northern beaches dominated the first quarter of the match and scored the opening two tries.

Both teams went set for set for the first four minutes, with Tyrone Roberts taking the pressure off Ash Taylor with a couple of big bombs, before a forward pass from Jorge Taufua granted Gold Coast the first repeat set of the match. Kevin Proctor and Jai Whitbread took a pair of big hit-ups right in front of the posts, and then Taylor started a rapid left sweep with a looping wide pass, but the Titans were unable to score off this play, and send the Steeden back to the other side of the park. When they headed left again at the end of the set, it was even less successful, as Elgey intercepted a flick pass from Roberts, and Cust continued his momentum midway down the field, before Proctor leaked the first penalty with an offside error.

With so much sudden momentum behind the Sea Eagles, it felt almost inevitable when Taufua made up for his earlier mistake by crashing over in the left corner, thanks to a superb wide ball from Cust that seemed to fulfil the leftwards rhythm that Taylor had been searching for on the last Titans set, before Reuben Garrick nailed a tricky sideline conversion to put Manly six ahead. Cust followed with a perfect last-tackle kick that refused to sit up for AJ Brimson, forcing the Titans to work the footy out of a scrum feed rather than get rolling immediately. Roberts’ next kick was more remunerative, though, since Brendan Elliot lost the high ball under some good pressure from Brian Kelly, giving Gold Coast a chance to compensate for Taufua’s four-pointer.

Once again Proctor took the first hit, and Moeaki Fotuaika almost broke through the line, before Roberts sent Anthony Don over in the right corner with a deft harbour bridge pass. Yet this right edge play was just as frustrated as Taylor’s earlier left edge play, since the four points were immediately denied due to an obstruction from an over-eager Proctor. Gold Coast were now really hungry for a try, and got going almost immediately when Elliot made his second successive mistake for Manly, gaining a penalty shortly after when Cust was penalised for a ball strip. This was the most vulnerable moment so far for the Sea Eagles, and the Titans came close to capitalising immediately with another combination between Roberts and Don.

This time Roberts kicked instead of passing to his right winger, but he’d counted without Taufua, who chased down Don and prevented him from collecting and putting down the kick all in one lithe motion. In real time this looked like a close thing, but the replay revealed Don’s indecision in the face of the footy – and suggested he might have had a better chance if he’d just tried to catch it, and then contend with the tackle from Taufua. Gold Coast did better with the next Manly penalty, which started off looking like a Manly try, as Dylan Walker made his first big statement of the night, burning up the right edge of the field and booting the ball in goal for Elgey to slam down.

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It was a massive momentum-changer, then, when Walker was deemed to be offside – and the Titans very nearly made the most of it, muscling their way up the middle of the park, as Proctor capped off four big runs with a tough hit-up on the fourth, before Taylor’s kick ricocheted off the defence and back into the hands of Gold Coast. Manly somehow got the footy back, but the Titans intensified their rhythm on the next set, when a huge Taylor kicked forced Elliot to collect the ball at the twenty, and three Gold Coast players drove him back within it. Gradually, the visitors were consolidating, and seemed destined to score off a sublime linebreak from AJ Brimson on the very first tackle of the following set – the fastest moment of the night so far.

Yet Brimson’s stellar run just made Elliot’s low tackle trysaver all the more galvanising – so galvanising that it undid all the field position Gold Coast had gradually accrued, opening up the game for Walker to scoop up a lost ball from Jarrod Wallace, burn down the park, and shift it across for Garrick to score. If Walker weren’t only in his second week back he could probably have gone all the way, but even so this was a resounding bounce back after the offside penalty that cost Elgey a try, making a twelve-point turnaround once Garrick added the extras. Walker came close to another brilliant play a few minutes later, breaking through the line following a crowding penalty from Tyrone Peachey, but the Titans got a letoff when he made an error at the end of the set.

Nevertheless, the Sea Eagles started to grind down Gold Coast as the thirty minute mark approached, determined to compensate for another frustrated tryscoring opportunity to feature Walker. In retrospect, Walker’s error felt like a turning-point, since if Manly had managed to pile on a third try here they could conceivably have dominated the rest of the night. As it was, Gold Coast made a surprise comeback five minutes out from the siren, when they took advantage of a Morgan Boyle error to almost level the scoreline with two successive tries. The first came from Dale Copley, who collected the footy from Peachey in the left corner to add another four-pointer to his splendid record over the last couple of weeks.

The Titans got a boost after a ball strip from Manase Fainu on Moeaki Fotuaika on the restart, but Taylor send a fairly average pass to Proctor on the last, and the big second rower was cleaned up without too much trouble right on the line. Nevertheless, an early kick from the Sea Eagles allowed Gold Coast to resume their attack on the halfway line, and they made the most of it, as Brimson kicked down a Roberts chip, getting ahead of both Elgey and Waddell to put down four more points a minute out from the break, as Elliot was caught out of position at the worst possible time. While Taylor missed the conversion, the Titans still headed to the sheds feeling as if they were in front, despite the two point deficit.

Walker made a strong run on the first Manly set after the break, dragging Shannon Boyd and a couple of big men behind him on the third tackle, but Anthony Don was almost as good on the next set, moments before Sironen was pinged for a ball strip. Cust did a great job of preventing Proctor from twisting through on the right edge, before Taylor lost the footy, and Elliot broke through the line, gaining fifty metres before he was brought down by a low tackle from Brimson. The Sea Eagles got another burst of field position following a knock-on from Peachey, and could have taken control if they’d scored here, but instead Walker put down a difficult pass from Fainu, under pressure from Arthars, who saved a near-certain try.

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A slow peel from Elgey removed what residual rhythm the Sea Eagles had kept from Elliot’s splendid run, and on the next set Proctor offloaded before he was cleaned up again on the right edge. Roberts elected to kick on the third, and Garrick gathered up the footy in goal, but not before Walker had leaked an escorts penalty, gifting Gold Coast a repeat set rather than the delay of a dropout. Just as Manly had to score after Peachey’s knock-on, so the Titans had to score here – and they did, off one of their set plays, as a wide pass from Taylor set up Roberts to dummy and slice past the defence to put down the next four points, bringing Gold Coast to a 12-14 lead once Taylor sent the kick looping around the right post.

The Titans were hungry on the next set, putting in hard runs, good footwork and quick play-the-balls, starting with a massive encounter between Stockwell and Trbojevic right on the line, but the Sea Eagles got a letoff – and only their fourth tackle in Gold Coast’s twenty – when Proctor was pinged for not being square at marker. Yet despite the highest harbor bridge pass of the night from Elgey to the right edge, Manly were once again unable to consolidate, and conceded the footy to Roberts on the last play without too much drama. On their next set, the Sea Eagles played it safe, moving slowly up through the ruck, where Cartwright and Wallace made a sterling hit on Sironen, before an error from Parker made another easy turnover.

Taylor made one of his biggest bombs at the end of the next set, forcing Elliot to reach right back to the sideline to contain it. Manly now started to look pretty desperate, especially when Elliot failed to recognise the last tackle, resulting in a messy passage of play that ended with Trbojevic being cleaned up on the last with no real chance of a kick, pass or run. Gold Coast scored their freakiest try of the night soon after, thanks to an offload from Kelly on the left edge that initially seemed to bounce back into open space, only for Cartwright to storm in, scoop it up, and flick it across to Copley to put down a double. This time Taylor added the extras from the sidelines, another addition to his confidence after the bomb that had almost defied Elliot a few sets before.

Minutes later, Copley made it a hat trick, collecting the most beautiful pass of the night – a long, looping ball from Taylor – while running a hard line up the left edge of the field, miles away from the ostensible focus of the play, and completely undefended. It was freakish enough that Copley managed to reach out his left arm and catch the footy one-handed, before shifting it across to his right, but it was unbelievable that he managed to stay in the field of the play for the whole process, in one of the most dexterous tryscoring sequences that we’ve seen in 2019. The try wasn’t without controversy or challenge from Trbojevic, however, who attributed it to a referee miscommunication and a disorganized defensive line.

Still, this was a sublime play, and meant that the Titans had now equaled the most points that the Sea Eagles have conceded so far in 2019 – 26 to both the Roosters and Broncos. For a short period, the shock of Copley’s hat trick seemed to galvanise the Sea Eagles, resulting in their final tryscoring sequence of the night – a rapid play-the-ball from Thompson followed by a short ball from Cust that sent Parker across in the corner. Gold Coast didn’t take long to respond though, with Roberts booting forward a ricochet off Walker, before Cartwright repeated his try assist as a try, scooping up the Steeden right on the chalk and lunging over to bring the visitors to 32 once Taylor had slotted another two points through the uprights.

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The icing on the Gold Coast cake came six minutes out from the siren, when Taylor got a double with a deft dummy right on the line, before crashing over to crown one of his best games in ages, and a galvanising win for the Titans after their dispiriting recent record. They’ll be looking to continue this brilliant form when they host the Cowboys at Cbus for the last match of Round 12 on Sunday night, while the Sea Eagles will be keen to regain some pride when they rock up to Penrith to take on a Panthers outfit who are flushed with success – but also keen for an even bigger win – following their six point victory over Parramatta at Bankwest last night.

About Billy Stevenson (751 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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