ROUND 3: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (Central Coast Stadium, 31/5/20)

Manly started fast for the last game of Round 3, thanks to an offload from Curtis Sironen to Daly Cherry-Evans, who popped it across to Moses Suli on the right side of the field. The ex-Bulldog fended off Nick Meaney and sped up the chalk, sending a harbor bridge pass across to Tom Trbojevic, who easily outpaced Will Hopoate to put down the first four points of the game. Turbo had scored the only Manly try this year, so there was a palpable sense of Manly resetting here, even if Reuben Garrick’s conversion attempt bounced back off the right post, and Addin Fonua-Blake spilled the ball two tackles into the restart. Canterbury got their men in place on the left edge, but Jack Cogger seemed to think there was someone on the outside of Meaney, since his wide ball went way too wide. He took out some of his frustration with the biggest hit of the game so far, on Dylan Walker, during the next set, but Meaney was still placed under considerable pressure beneath his first high ball since Turbo’s try.

Turbo had much more breathing space under Lachlan Lewis’ first big bomb of the night, and Manly then got the first six again siren, but Walker kicked too far on the final set, sending the Steeden skittering all the way to the advertising boards. Canterbury now had their first real increase in field position, even if it was only a seventh tackle, but they were unable to capitalise on it, since Reimis Smith lost the footy late in the count on the left side of the park. This time, Walker put better weight on the kick, and Jorge Taufua came very close to grounding it, but ended up knocking on after a heroic chase from Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, who came in out of nowhere for the best defensive display from either team so far. The Dogs needed this show of strength from their fullback, since Adam Elliott was now taken off the field for an HIA, and replaced by Sausao Sue, who ended up having a longer night in the second row than expected, since the big Tathra product wouldn’t be cleared to return again to the park this evening.

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No surprise, then, that the Dogs had their most restless sequence so far next time they had ball in hand, coming up with their own near-try sequence – a compressed chip-and-chase from Lewis that DCE scooped up right on the line, despite a sea of blue and white jerseys clamouring for him to be called offside. They didn’t get the call they wanted, but they did get the ball back almost immediately when Moses Suli botched a tricky Turbo pass. Four tackles in, Dean Britt was the next to lose the Steeden, and then Addin Fonua-Blake on the second, as the dewy conditions seemed to be getting the best of both sides. Fonua-Blake compounded his handling error with an offside error, and the Bulldogs chose to tap and go, with Sauaso Sue and Dylan Napa taking two big hits, before Sironen came out of the line and dislodged the Steeden from Aiden Tolman on the third. Moments later, the Sea Eagles found touch after Sue illegally stripped the ball from Marty Taupau, but despite a mad dash from Brad Parker up the left edge, Cogger scooped up the footy and put this brief Manly momentum to rest.

The Sea Eagles got six again on the first tackle of the restart, but it didn’t feel eventful, since they’d squandered so many opportunities that they’d lost the rhythm of their remarkable opening try, despite clearly being the strongest team on the field. DCE tried to steady his troops by finding touch at the end of their next set, but they got their first scare in a while when Lewis kicked a minute later. Garrick was now perhaps the most immobile player so far under the high ball, standing his ground as a wall of Bulldogs jerseys approached, but he couldn’t withstand the speed and strength of Meaney, who popped the ball up into the air, only to knock it on while trying to reach out a hand and slam it to ground. A fairly messy period now ensued, with both sides making errors in the dewy conditions, until Turbo stepped up with just the fullback leadership the Sea Eagles needed to get back on track.

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This was one of the coolest and cleanest tries of the year, as Tom tucked the Steeden under his right arm, and got away from DWZ to put down four more in the corner. A couple of sets later, DCE went for a 40/20, and DWZ knocked it back into the field of play, before the Bulldogs made a successful Captain’s Challenge after a Jack Cogger pass was played at by Danny Levi. They earned a dropout immediately after, but this brief period of field position came to an end when Britt made his second handling error of the night while trying to offload right on the line. A spill from DWZ under a DCE bomb gave Manly the next chance they needed, as Turbo turned from try scorer to try assister, sending across a short ball for Parker to make good on his splendid run up the left side earlier in the match. The Dogs swept from left to right on their last set, searching in vain for an attacking opportunity, before Crichton leaped up above Taufua to bat back the last high ball, only to send it straight into Parker’s chest.

The Sea Eagles came back even stronger after the break. On the first set, DCE and Turbo had their best ball play of the night so far, shifting the Steeden back and forth on the right edge, albeit without quite managing to set up Manly’s next try. On the second set, DCE ended with a towering bomb, as Turbo nudged through the defence for his best kick contest of the game. While he couldn’t prevent DWZ collecting it, he could keep him in goal to secure a dropout, and at the end of this third set he contributed his second successive try assist. This time Tommy opted for a long ball instead of a short pass – a sweeping, fifteen-metre effort that hit Taufua square on the chest with all the speed and precision of a bullet pass. The fairytale almost continued on the restart, when Parker found space on the left edge and passed to Taufua, who kicked directly into Turbo’s run trajectory, only for Jeremy Marshall-King to slam in at the very last minute, hitting Tom with just enough speed to dishevel him in the face of a tricky bounce.

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Manly didn’t have to wait long for their next tryscoring opportunity, however, as Garrick soon collected the footy on the outside of the park, and ran in from about ten metres out, building up enough speed and strength for what would have been a certain try had the Dogs not responded with their gutsiest trysaver of the night – a combined tackle from DWZ and Tolman, and then a follow-up effort from Meanry, to keep Garrick off the ground until the tackle was completed. The Sea Eagles still had another tackle, and DCE kicked crossfield, where Turbo tapped it back, and Parker sent it over to Taufua, but this time he didn’t execute the pass properly. This had been an unsettled period for Manly – two big opportunities that came to nothing – so it felt like the Bulldogs had a bit of scope to score here if they could just harness the slightly shifted atmosphere of the game, especially once DWZ collected an awkwardly bouncing ball from DCE at the end of the next set.

Yet Britt now made his third mistake, realising halfway into a tackle from Sironen that he’d missed a couple of attackers on his inside, and compensating with an illegal offload while on the ground. All of a sudden, the Sea Eagles had the upper hand again, as DCE showed some good leadership with a sensible play on the last, ricocheting the Steeden off his right boot with just enough weight to trap Meaney in goal for the next dropout. That said, Canterbury got a brief epilogue to prove their worth when Taniela Paseka stuffed up the play-the-ball on the very first tackle. Jackson, Napa and Faitala-Mariner took big hits on the first three runs, and Lewis found some space for Meaney on the edge, before Paseka made his second successive error with a dangerous tackle. The Bulldogs now had their best best momentum of the second half, so the game swung just as emphatically back in Manly’s direction when Crichton made a handling error while trying to scoop up a pass from Jackson out the back of the play.

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Walker immediately took advantage of this turnover, making thirty metres on the first run, and laying the platform for an offload from Sironen to DCE that got Suli to the thirty by the second tackle. This commenced another accumulation of Manly field position that culminated with their next four points, since they were at the ten metre line by the third tackle, where a deft combination between Turbo and DCE was knocked down by the Canterbury defence, getting them six again right on the line. Walker kicked to the left edge early in the tackle count, and Cogger got to the footy in time but knocked it on, before Lewis copped an offside penalty a single tackle later. As yet another set restarted, Taupua ferried the footy right to the line, before DCE dummied, Walker turned the defence around, and Sean Keppie dragged three Canterbury defenders up the right edge. Following Walker’s lead, DCE kicked early, sending the footy beneath Lewis, who stretched out a boot in vain to stop it, as history repeated itself when Meaney was once again trapped in goal for another Manly dropout.

The Sea Eagles now had the most sustained period of field position in the second half, so it felt inevitable when Sironen crashed over a second later, collecting a short ball from Levi to slam through Smith, Britt and Napa, after a hard run from Fonua-Blake set him up with the angle he needed. Garrick wasn’t having a great night with the boot, but Manly were still 22-0, and made it 28 when Parker scored a double a couple of sets later. No surprise that we got more magic from the spine, as Walker set up DCE for a superb offload to Turbo, who drew in DWZ and shifted the footy to Parker on his outside at just the right moment. This time Garrick got the conversion, but the Bulldogs were the next to score, putting down their sole consolation try at the tail end of a nifty move from Lewis – a short grubber through the defensive line that Lewis himself then chased down. Only at the last second did he veer away to allow Jake Averillo to scoop it up in his right hand and finally put Canterbury on the board, before Meaney added their first and last conversion.

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Nevertheless, the Sea Eagles still had the final word, a couple of sets later, when Suli collected the footy from DCE, got on the outside of Averillo, and almost ran right over the top of Meaney. The Dogs were done, and the try was all but guaranteed by the time that Suli had made a quick play-the-ball to Garrick, who saw three Canterbury defenders heading left, and burrowed his head down in the opposite direction, gathering the Steeden into his chest for the last four points of the game, since Garrick didn’t manage the final kick. Despite Levi being binned for a second effort twenty seconds from the siren, the Sea Eagles remained strong to the end, preventing Crichton scoring a second consolation try in the last three seconds, to come away with their most satisfying game this year. They’ll be looking for the same splendid form, then, when they meet the Eels at Bankwest in Round 4, while the Bulldogs will be raring for a solid win over the Dragons in a week’s time.

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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