Saturday night’s match at Brookvale was one of the most rapid, plosive and visceral of Round 24, as the Sea Eagles tried to muscle their way into the top four and the Storm did everything in their power to prove why they’re currently at the head of the ladder. Following a pair of opening bombs from Daly Cherry-Evans and Jahrome Hughes, Jorge Taufua made the first big statement of the evening, taking advantage of the heavy rain and slippery conditions to slide along the ground and catch the Steeden just before it hit the turf.
Taufua’s gymnastic display was bolstered by a twenty metre run from Marty Taupau, but Ryan Papenhuyzen proved just as capable under the high ball when DCE booted through another bomb at the end of the set. In an effort to maintain Manly’s edge, Curtis Sironen stripped the football with Api Koroisau also in the tackle, getting the Storm some bonus field position, which the visitors concluded with a big sweep through Cameron Smith, Cameron Munster and Kenny Bromwich that saw Josh Ado-Carr cross over on the left edge a minute later.
With Smith adding the extras, the Storm were six ahead as the storm set in, rain sheeting across Brookvale as both teams gritted their teeth for a grinding seventy minutes. A big kick chase trapped Tom Trbjoevic in the corner a set later, but the real bummer came when Turbo was taken off the field, with an injury that seemed to have been sustained before the Melbourne defenders even got to him. At the start of the season it was hamstring problems, but now it appeared to be a pectoral issue, as Corey Waddell came onto the park, and Reuben Garrick slotted into the fullback role.
Twelve minutes later, DCE tried to rally the troops with his fourth 40/20 of the season – more than any other player – and Jack Gosiewski followed up by almost muscling his way to the line off a flat pass from Dylan Walker. Sironen mirrored Gosiewski’s effort with a classy run on the other side of the field, but the set came to nothing when Will Chambers wrapped up Walker before he could get boot to footy.
Addin Fonua-Blake took out some of the team’s frustration with a big hit on Nelson Asofa-Solomona, but Papenhuyzen had the smarter play, running into Jake Trbojevic in an offside position a tackle later. The Storm now got a dropout after Koroisau was forced to ground a Cameron Smith grubber in goal, but luckily for the home crowd Brandon Smith lost the footy off a Jahrome Hughes pass a couple of tackles after. Yet with Walker knocking on early in the next Sea Eagles set the Storm were able to regain their dropout field position pretty quickly, and this time make good on it.Embed from Getty Images
Cam Smith now showed some of his best vision and leadership in weeks, steadying the ship after a hesitant start from Suliasi Vunivalu, who ran behind a couple of players and ended up taking the Steeden to ground instead of risking a penalty. Papenhuyzen regathered the rhythm immediately, scooping up the footy and executing the quick play-the-ball that set up Smith to run into the line and send a cut-out pass to Justin Olam, who split the Manly defence and crashed over with Moses Suli barely getting a hand to him.
Smith’s kick passed just inside the left upright, putting the Storm twelve ahead, and Olam followed up with a linebreak on the restart, before opting to send the footy across to Munster on his inside instead of capitalizing on Ado-Carr on his outside. Taufua responded with the first of two big hits that would prove critical for the Sea Eagles during this opening forty, making a bone-rattling tackle on Munster that halted another tryscoring formation from the purple army. While the Storm still got a dropout, Vunivalu was unable to prevent a Papenhuyzen grubber from heading over the sideline, and Manly were able to catch their breath for a couple of seconds.
Twelve minutes from the siren, Melbourne got their fifth dropout when a Hughes kick and Chambers tackle trapped Garrick in goal. Three tackles in, after carries from Bromwich and Munster, the Storm got their toughest and simplest try so far – a short ball from Smith that set up Asofa-Solomona to barge through Walker, Gosiewski and Garrick, before reaching out a massive paw to plant the footy over the line. Asofa-Solomona has never looked bigger, in a David-and-Goliath contest in which Goliath won, and David was three men.
Melbourne almost scored again a few minutes later, when Ado-Carr fumbled a superb flick pass from Olam right on the line. Even in wet conditions the Fox doesn’t tend to miss these opportunities, and the Storm seemed a bit spooked by his putdown, leaking their first penalty at the end of the next set with a high tackle from Asofa-Solomona. While they got the ball back, Taufua made his second huge hit – this time on Papenhuyzen – before Vunivalu lost control, and a brilliant DCE pass sent Taniela Paseka over the line as the rain started torrenting down again.
This was a brilliant moment from DCE, who brought the footy right into Asofa-Solomona’s chest before shifting it to his frontrower, as if to prove that David had a shot at winning after all. Full credit has to go to Taufua, too, whose hit-up provided the burst of belief that the Sea Eagles needed to synergise on this set, which ended up putting them twelve behind once Garrick added the extras without too much trouble. They got another bout of field position after a slow peel from Max King, and were inside the Storm’s twenty by the third tackle, but couldn’t make good on the last, as Suli was cleaned up after securing a crossfield kick from DCE.Embed from Getty Images
While the Sea Eagles didn’t follow up on their try after the break they did manage to halt Melbourne’s momentum over the first ten minutes, thanks in part to a pair of handling errors from Asofa-Solomona. Yet when the Storm did score, it was one of the most incredible sequences of their season, and one of the best wet weather tries I’ve ever seen. The play started with a kick from Papenhuyzen to the left corner, followed by a chase from Ado-Carr. While the Fox didn’t arrive in time to ground it, he slid on his knees, and popped it back inside before careening into touch.
From there, the Steeden ricocheted off Bradley Parker’s legs before sitting up in front of the dead ball line for Olam to storm down and score a double. The Fox couldn’t have asked for a better way to get some closure after bombing a try in the first half, in one of the most sublime displays of his year so far. Taufua got some of his own medicine a few sets later, losing the footy clean while bracing himself for a big hit from Will Chambers, and the Storm took a penalty kick a few plays later, on the back of a slow peel from Sironen, putting themselves quadruple the Sea Eagles.
The low point of the game came with a dropped ball by DCE at the end of a rare attacking opportunity for Manly. The despair on Daly’s face said it all, and the collective frustration peaked on the next Melbourne set, when a pair of big hits from Chambers on Walker and Garrick spilled out into a full-blown fracas. Whether Chambers had said something to Garrick was unclear, but punches were very nearly thrown, and Walker was lucky to get away with a warning after launching himself into the thick of the action, galvanised by his notorious feud with the Melbourne backliner.
Amazingly, Chambers was sent off to the sinbin, but even with a twelve man opposition the Sea Eagles couldn’t score, with Waddell’s error a moment later setting the tone for their final minutes of the game. Ins fact, it was the Storm who scored in Chambers’ absence, as Papenhuyzen crashed over a couple of sets later, following a right movement from Smith and Hughes. A minute before Chambers returned, Olam made it a hat trick, reaching out his left hand to ground the footy despite a combined tackle from Parker and Suli, off a Kenny Bromwich pass.
To add insult to injury, Bromwich only had the ball because Papenhuyzen’s kick had richocheted off DCE’s boots, as Parker and Suli’s combined effort finally exhausted the Manly tank, and Chambers trotted back onto the park as Smith ate up the last minute with the final kick. The Storm ended six times the Sea Eagles at 6-36, while Manly’s woes were compounded by the absence of Tom Turbo, who was taken off for scans after the game finished. No team has looked so traumatised in 2019 as Manly did here – and they have some pretty hardened men in their midst – with most members of the Storm giving them a few comforting words as they shook hands.Embed from Getty Images
On the other side of the Steeden, the Storm have secured another minor premiership, and will be on cruise control when they host the Cowboys in Melbourne next week for the end of the regular footy season. Meanwhile, the Sea Eagles have a big job ahead of them when they travel to play a Parramatta outfit who have been seriously burned by agonising losses to the Bulldogs and Broncos over the last two weeks. You can be sure that the Eels will be desperate to capitalise on Manly’s vulnerability, meaning Manly have to dig deep, and find a way through their most despairing game of the season, to maximize their hopes of a decent finals berth.