It was fifth against sixth when the Sea Eagles hosted the Eels at Brookvale on Sunday afternoon, and the game started as closely contested as you might expect. Joel Thompson was pinged for being offside less than a minute into the match, but it was a penalty for Kane Evans, for a slow peel, that proved most costly. Moments later, Tom Trbojevic made a run for the right corner, where Moses Suli set up Reuben Garrick to crash through Maika Sivo and Reed Mahoney for the first try.
Only a few minutes had passed, and only one try had been scored, but Manly already felt on a roll, epitomised by Daly Cherry-Evans risking a massive cut-out pass on the first tackle of the next set. While Ethan Parry managed to clean up a Dylan Walker kick with the sun in his eye, the Eels didn’t make any real headway until Thompson clocked up a second penalty for a dubious loose carry due to a tackle from Manu M’au as he appeared to be getting to his feet to play the ball.
The change in momentum was immediate, with the Eels scoring on the next set, thanks to a Dylan Brown kick that threaded its way between Thompson and Walker into the right corner. As the last line of defence, Jorge Taufua was content to shepherd the Steeden into touch, but he’d counted without Parry, who was making his NRL debut in Blake Ferguson’s absence, and who scooted up from behind to put down the footy with his right hand just before it bounced over the line.
It was a stunning way for Parry to score his first NRL try, and gave Parramatta a surge that was guided by some brilliant work with the boot from Mitchell Moses over the next few minutes. After adding the extras, Moses executed a superb 40/20, jumping back over the 40-metre line before slicing the footy downfield. It was a perfectly timed grubber from Moses, too, that set up the next Parra try – a side-boot kick through the defence that Brad Takairangi planted down right on the chalk.
Turbo had almost managed to get to the ball in time, but the replay showed that Takairangi had been the better man, even if he backtracked a bit with a high shot on Taufua a couple of sets later. The Sea Eagles then got a few shots in the left corner, culminating with a marginally forward pass from Turbo to Taufua, although a lost ball from Shaun Lane got them the footy again, only for a knock-on from Bradley Parker to once more frustrate their chance at a sustained tryscoring formation.Embed from Getty Images
For a moment, it looked as if Brown might follow Moses by guiding Parra to more points, thanks to an amazing kick that looked set to bounce over the sideline, before sitting up right in the corner. Seizing his opportunity, however, Turbo put a foot into touch while collecting the ball, getting Manly the scrum feed in the process. They then made steady headway up the park, and got a fresh set of six on the last tackle when Junior Paulo gave away a costly penalty for lying in the ruck.
DCE now stepped up and took control of the game, collecting the footy about ten metres out from the line, then drifting left, straightening, pivoting off the right foot, and finally dancing over a low tackle from M’au to arrive at the line too late for Gutherson to contain him. With Garrick adding the extras, the score was level again, while DCE had demonstrated that he could shape the game every bit as deftly as the Parramatta halfback.
The best was yet to come, however, as the Sea Eagles now proceeded to put in their best set of the afternoon, starting with a huge hit-up from Taupau on the first tackle, and culminating with a DCE kick that found Gutherson leaping for it in the corner. Although Gutho took possession cleanly in the air, Turbo somehow managed to dodge his way around Moses, jump up, effect a one-on-one strip in the air, and then bring the Steeden to ground before the Eels knew what had hit them.
It was an Origin-like performance – and a flashback to Turbo’s effort in Origin 2 – and the best try from the Manly fullback all year; the kind of Herculean effort that still feels unbelievable after multiple replays from multiple angles. While Garrick now missed his first conversion of the match, there was no question that Manly had the upper edge. They capitalised further on it a few sets later, with a left sweep that culminated with a cut-out pass from Walker to Parker, who ploughed through Gutherson on the ten metre line and then skipped over Moses for the try.
Still, the Sea Eagles weren’t done, as Turbo brought the footy right in front of the posts a few sets later, making it to the five metre mark before being brought to ground. He’d been trying to link up with Jake, but the play wasn’t over, as DCE’s boot once again paid dividends – this time by ricocheting a grubber off an unsuspecting Moses, who provided the pivot for the footy to deflect straight into Addin Fonua-Blake’s direction, allowing the big prop to put down another four points for Manly.Embed from Getty Images
By now, Manly had scored their most points in a first half of football in 2019. Just as important, the DCE kick and richochet off Moses symbolized the battle of the halfbacks over the last forty minutes, in which Mitchell had originally been dominant, but Daly had gradually asserted himself for a fast finish. Once more, Garrick missed the conversion, but the Sea Eagles still headed into the sheds fourteen points ahead, after failing to score on their last set of the stanza.
Although Brad Arthur reportedly gave his team a spray, it only took three minutes for Garrick to pay homage to Turbo’s effort. The try seemed to come out of nowhere, with the Sea Eagles starting a left sweep, only for Walker to halt it with a kick to the right corner. Perhaps because Walker’s own body language was slightly sluggish and nonplussed, this felt like a fairly uninspired last tackle option, especially since only Garrick and DCE were behind him.
Nevertheless, Garrick made the most of it, putting in one of the best kick chases of the night to outleap Sivo, claim the football and bring it to ground, before adding the extras to garner Manly a twenty point lead. Moments later, Taufua made the biggest tackle of the night, and got the Sea Eagles some extra field position. However, some big pressure from Sivo forced Garrick to put a foot on the line just as he was setting up Suli for what would have been the home team’s seventh try of the match.
Parra now hadn’t scored since the thirteenth minute, and were rapidly losing energy. One set, about twelve minutes in, said it all – not only did they accidentally fumble the footy back towards their own line, but a desperate, misshaped kick from Moses allowed the hosts to regain possession within the blue and gold half of the park. Luckily for the Eels, Turbo got pinged for a fairly questionable knock-on, the beginning of a series of errors that would conclude with Manly scoring once again.
The next mistake came from Gutherson, who kicked out on the full, under pressure from Thompson, at the end of the next set. Turbo then knocked on for real, but Parry lost the ball just as quickly after trying to collect it from Ma’u right on the Parramatta line. Manly then consolidated with a right sweep, culminating with a harbor bridge pass from Turbo that put Garrick over the chalk for his first career hattrick, in a dazzling apotheosis of the interplay between fullback and winger that had made the Manly backline so dynamic over the last sixty minutes.Embed from Getty Images
It was becoming clear that the Eels would need a one-man effort to get back on the board, since all of their spine combinations were falling short, while their forwards couldn’t manage to secure quite enough space – or the right kind of space – for their backline to come together. Finally, Nathan Brown broke through the line at the sixty-first minute, taking advantage of a rare slippage in the Sea Eagles defence to bring the Eels to eighteen once Moses had booted through his third conversion of the evening.
For a moment, it looked liked Moses might recapture some of his splendid energy of the first stanza, thanks to a harbor bridge pass midway up the field that initially looked set to launch Parry into open space, only for it to be called back as a forward pass. In an evening of tough calls, this was one of the toughest, and led to a crisp tryscoring sequence from the Sea Eagles – a left edge attack that Thompson punctuated by making a break for the line instead of shifting the Steeden out to the wing.
While the ex-Dragon got football to turf, the try was called back because Walker had caught the Steeden on the inside of Taupau, leading to an obstruction penalty and a call of no try. Again, Parra were unable to consolidate, due to an obstruction from Lane to mirror Taupau, but Sivo crossed over a set later, thanks to a rapid left sweep that saw the big winger plant the footy down with one hand before Suli could drag him into touch.
With seven minutes on the clock, the Eels only had to clock up two converted tries to bring the game to golden point, as Jake Trbojevic prepared to return to the field to defend the Sea Eagles’ twelve point lead. Yet both sides grew sloppy in the final minutes, from a forward pass from Walker to Parker, to a cough-up from Evans, off a difficult pass, as soon as Parramatta got the football back on the next set.
In the end, then, the Sea Eagles were triumphant, coming away with a twelve-point lead, and some of their best football in weeks – exactly the surge they need before they head to Melbourne to take on the Storm at AAMI Park in Round 19. On the other side of the Steeden, this was one of a few big losses that have marred the Eels’ form this year, despite some superb kicking from Moses, so they’ll be looking for a convincing win when they host the Warriors at Bankwest on Saturday afternoon.