Saturday night’s match at Bankwest was set to be the premium contest of Round 4, with the Eels second on the ladder after Penrith’s barnstorming game against New Zealand the night before, and Manly coming off a scintillating pair of wins over the Roosters and Bulldogs. Parra got the first two penalties in the first two minutes – a dangerous tackle from Joel Thompson and then an illegal strip from Jorge Taufua – before Taufua had the footy stripped back by Clint Gutherson at the back end of a Mitchell Moses kick to the right corner. Moses responded with a beautiful wide ball across to Blake Ferguson on the outside edge, but Fergo was taken into touch by Taufua before he could get over the line – a nice bit of closure for the Manly winger – as the Sea Eagles got their first go at the football in about five minutes. They contained Parra better on the next set and, with Taufua collecting Moses’ kick on the final play, settled back into a set-for-set rhythm after this brief opening scare.
Dylan Walker now made the best Manly kick so far, forcing Gutherson to collect it right on the goal line, before three Sea Eagles defenders cleaned Ferguson up at the ten metre line. For the first time in the game, Moses kicked from inside his own forty, and Garrick brought the ball twenty metres, but Manly didn’t get to the final tackle, since Tom Trbojevic coughed up a tricky pass from DCE, with the blue and gold defence right up in his face. Reagan Campbell-Gillard fumbled the footy a few plays later, dropping it cold as he charged towards the Manly defence, and so the visitors started with a fresh set not far from where Turbo had lost DCE’s ball. They commenced with a good left sweep, but Taufua couldn’t find space on the left edge, so they moved right just as quickly, where Moses Suli almost broke through the line, but DCE was too bunched up to kick on the last, shifting the Steeden across to Curtis Sironen, who kicked too hard to set up Parramatta for the first seven tackle set of the game.Embed from Getty Images
This was much stronger than the Eels’ previous set, featuring a near-linebreak from Moses, a harbour bridge pass from Gutherson to Sivo, and then a perfectly weighted kick from Moses, which only travelled about five metres in goal, but bounced around dangerously, trapping Walker by the time a stellar Parra kick chase arrived. Walker took a risk with a flick pass back to Turbo, who was also in goal, but the Eels cleaned up the Manly fullback just as easily, earning themselves the first dropout of the game. DCE went long with the boot, and Paulo and RCG made big metres, before Thompson executed the best trysaver so far right when Ryan Matterson seemed poised to cross over on the right edge. Still, it all ended with another dropout for Parra, and Moses’ deftest kick of the night – a low, skittering effort that travelling straight between Sironen’s legs before DCE slid in to kick it into touch, adding the dropout kick a moment after.
Sivo now channeled Ryan Papenhuyzen’s incredible effort against the Rabbitohs by lunging himself over the sideline to pop the footy back inside to Dylan Brown, as the Sea Eagles started to show some of the desperation of the opening minutes, finally conceding the first penalty kick to Moses with a Marty Taupau leg pull. Garrick levelled the score shortly after, following two successive penalties from Parramatta – first an offside error from Brown, and then a high tackle from Waqa Blake, who clearly wasn’t impressed with the call, but didn’t want to risk a Captain’s Challenge on it. This penalty goal decision was understandable for Manly, but a bit conventional for the Eels, who could have conceivably scored off Taupau’s error, and who also took the safe option a few sets later, when Moses sent the footy over the sideline for a rare scrum feed.Embed from Getty Images
For a period, Manly looked like they might be recovering their rhythm, as RCG lost the footy after a Parra set restart, and Moses chased down the ball after a DCE kick ricocheted off his chest, knocking it on in the process. Manly now had the scrum feed, and their first really significant bout of field position in the game, as Walker tried to send Parker through on the fourth and DCE offloaded to Turbo on the fifth, only for Tom to kick too hard as Sironen had before him. Everything now came together for the Eels, who executed one of their tightest sets before Brown ran into the line and passed to Gutherson, who sent a catch-and-pass across to Sivo on the wing. Turbo made up for his botched kick with what initially looked like the trysaver of the night, stopping Sivo cold in his tracks a metre out from the line, only for the cult winger to somehow use the shuddering contact and dramatic ricochet to his advantage, bobbling the footy from hand to hand before offloading to Michael Jennings on his inside.
Even more incredibly, Jenko also survived Turbo’s trysaving effort, dodging over the Manly fullback as he lay scrambling on the ground, and following Sivo by bobbling and recovering the footy before grounding it in the corner. This was arguably both the best trysaving and tryscoring sequence of the match, since Turbo’s effort would have been good enough to prevent the four points in any other situation. Moses’ kick from the sideline bounced off the right post and back above the sidebar, while Jenko soaked up the feeling of being only the 13th player to score 150 tries, after scoring in both games against Manly last year as well. The Sea Eagles recovered a bit in the last ten minutes, but even so Sivo assisted in exactly the same position right on the siren, taking on centre duties to send the Steeden out to Brown on the wing. So unexpected and unlikely was this pass that the pace of the play shifted quite dramatically, from Sivo storming into a sea of Manly defenders to Brown almost strolling across for Parra’s second try.Embed from Getty Images
Moses didn’t make the conversion this time, but the Eels still started strong after returning from the break, forcing a mistake on the very first set when Sean Keppie offloaded to Danny Levi before the ex-Knight was ready to receive it. The big men now stepped up, with Peni Terepo almost crashing over on the next play, and Kane Evans twisting and spinning through a mass of Manly defenders on the second tackle, reaching out a hand to ground the football on the chalk. There was some contention about whether Evans had lost possession just before he put the ball down, but the swathe of Manly defenders, and the difficulty of determining who else was moving the football, led to the Bunker giving him the benefit of the doubt, and so Moses added the extras right in front to put the Eels sixteen points ahead. Nevertheless, Manly came back pretty quickly from here, starting with a rapid play after Sivo dropped the ball cold off a sloppy pass from Brown, before Parra could get to the end of their restart.
Realising a rapid change in rhythm was required, Walker stormed up the left edge on the next play, and shifted the footy across to Turbo, who sent it across to Taufua in turn. Gutho and Blake converged on him, but Taufua was almost as deft as Jenko and Sivo at avoiding the trysaver, slamming the footy to ground for what initially looked like a possible bounce, but upon Bunker inspection was clearly a try. The Eels had started fast, but the Sea Eagles had come back even faster, and were now only two converted tries behind after Garrick missed the sideline conversion, while Taufua got a bit of joy to start the second half after a few frustrating moments in the opening minutes of the first. The Sea Eagles busted through an even more emphatic trysaver attempt a few sets later, when Walker collected the footy on the left of the field, pivoted away from Moses, and was forced back by what initially looked like a perfect tackle from Matterson, only to keep his arm off the ground, and pivot back over the ex-Tiger, effectively treating him as a fulcrum, and as the last assister before his try.Embed from Getty Images
This was a truly heroic effort from Garrick, and in combination with Taufua’s effort, cancelled out the intimidating shadow of Jennings and Sivo’s unbelievable tryscoring sequence in the first half. Manly got their next big chance when Gutho sent a wide ball out to Fergo on the first tackle – a ballsy play that initially paid dividends, only for Walker and Thompson to respond with a huge combined tackle that rattled the Steeden out of Ferguson’s grip. The Sea Eagles now had a perfect tryscoring opportunity, as Tom swiveled around on the right edge, Fonua-Blake made a charge at the posts, Walker shifted left on the third, Taupau took a big hit-up on the fourth, and the Sea Eagles swept right on the last, but it all came to nothing when Suli knocked the ball into a Parramatta player, costing them their best burst of momentum since Walker had scored. Nevertheless, the Eels had their own letdown shortly later, when a brilliant opening run from Jennings ended with the closest of putdowns from Oregon Kaufusi, who only just lost control in goal under pressure from Fonua-Blake.
Both sides had let a terrific attacking opportunity come to nothing, and there was only a converted try between them, so the adrenalin skyrocketed as the match wound down to its final quarter. Parra got another dropout, but it came to nothing after a Kaufusi error, and then Moses put his body on the line, eleven minutes out, with a huge tackle on Thompson that brought a plosively promising Sea Eagles set to a close. Finally, the Eels got the chance they needed with a mirror image of Gutho’s earlier pass to Fergo right on the line, as Fergo broke through the defence, ran down the middle of his park, passed to his fullback, and gave his men the speed and strength they needed to capitalise on their next set restart. They didn’t score a try, but the field goal from Moses was almost as good, giving Parra a seven point lead with seven minutes left on the clock. Manly had to score quickly to have a chance at a comeback – and they got an option immediately, when Blake knocked on the kickoff, denying Parra a restart.Embed from Getty Images
This set ended with a whimper, when DCE’s kick bounced straight into RCG’s hands, but the next one ended with a bang, when DCE shifted the footy out to Parker, who offloaded on the left edge for Tafua to put down his second try. This was gutsy stuff from Jorge, who slammed the Steeden to ground milliseconds before an enormous combined tackle from Fergo, Gutho and Moses sent him sliding over the sideline. Manly got their last big chance when Fergo knocked on during the next set, while seemingly trying to intercept the footy, giving them the scrum feed, and a chance for a fairytale finish, as the final ninety seconds of the match arrived. Since Garrick had missed the conversion, a field goal wouldn’t be enough – they needed a try, and scored one in the final seconds, only for Parra to win the game off the worst refereeing decision in years.
Manly headed right, where DCE passed to Turbo, who caught-and-passed to Garrick to put the ball down in the corner, only for the referees to call back the play for a forward pass, despite the fact that the replay showed the pass had clearly been backwards out of the hands, floating forward in the air. Despite the constrictions of the COVID-19 situation, this was still an extremely frustrating and disappointing outcome, since it denied Manly the best comeback of the year, in the premium game of Round 4, with no recourse for the Sea Eagles side. While it’s easy to complain about refereeing judgment and protocol from a distance, this was a big issue, so there probably needs to be some review of the procedure around forward passes in particular as the next couple of rounds unfold – possibly the option for a Captain’s Challenge to question them if and when the need arises. For the moment, the Eels will be taking the competition points with them into their game against the Panthers next week, while the Sea Eagles will have to put one of their most heartbreaking regular season games of the modern era behind them when they take on the Broncos on Thursday night.