The rain was bucketing down when the Warriors rocked up at Brookvale Oval for their first game without Blake Green, against a Manly outfit who had been decimated by thirty points against Penrith the week before. New Zealand started with a big statement, dragging Daly Cherry-Evans over the sideline on the very first play, as he tried to clean up a damaging kickoff that had bounced at right angles in the Sea Eagles’ back right corner. Peta Hiku then had a pass knocked down by Jorge Taufua as he looked set to complete a sweep to the right wing, and so the Warriors got a second scrum feed, heading right again, and then back in field, where Tohu Harris took the next tackle right beside the posts. Jazz Tevaga opted to go to ground instead of looking for an offload, and the decision paid off, since the Warriors got a restart a second later. History repeated itself when Harris got a fresh set in exactly the same spot as Tevaga, thanks to an offside error from DCE, and yet despite these big runs up the middle, the Warriors didn’t ask any big questions until Roger Tuivasa-Sheck put in some deft footwork on the second tackle of their last set. As if inspired by his fullback, Kodi Nikorima made a deft kick to the right on the last, where Patrick Herbert took advantage of the slippery surface to slide along the ground and catch the footy on the full for the first four points of the game.
This was a superb way to capitalise on this early possession, and especially spectacular in these torrential conditions, putting the Warriors almost a point per minute after Nikorima sent the conversion across the front of the posts. Finally, six and half minutes in, Manly got their first real touch of the footy, as Brendan Elliot caught Nikorima’s kick at the end of the restart, and the Sea Eagles ground in to make up for this devastating opening. DCE booted their first bomb from the short side, but RTS caught it on the ground, and stayed within the field of play, as New Zealand got rolling up the park again. They got their next penalty on play two, off a ball strip from Jorge Taufua, and accelerated into their fastest set so far, culminating with a flick pass from Chanel Harris-Tevita to Tevaga, who would have slammed over if not for a mammoth trysaver from Elliot and Jake Trbojevic. This was enough to start turning the momentum around, especially when Manly survived the next New Zealand kick and got a restart on play one. DCE opted to go low next time he got ball to boot, forcing George Jennings to circle around the Steeden as the Manly kick chase approached, before scooping it up for his first big play in his second game at Brooky in 2020 after his stint in Parra colours earlier in the season. The Warriors got their next restart a tackle later, and lost some rhythm with a trio of slips, the last from Nikorima, but regathered immediately at the end of the set.Embed from Getty Images
Harris-Tevita stepped up on the final play, bumping the footy off the side of his boot for Eliesa Katoa to slide onto it in goal, in a compressed version of Herbert’s opening try. This time Nikorima added the extras, putting the Warrriors ten ahead – once again, almost a point per minute – with 78% of total possession, and a 100% completion rate compared to the Sea Eagles’ 75%. Danny Levi made one of the best runs for Manly a minute later – right down the middle of the park – and the Brooky boys got a restart om the very next play, only for Elliot to lose the ball as Des Hasler looked on glumly for his 400th game as coach. Even worse, the Warriors scored their third straight try at the end of the next set, when Jennings collected a short ball from Adam Pompey, skidding and sliding on the sideline before regaining his balance to break away from DCE right on the chalk. The Bunker reviewed the possibility of an eight-point try after Elliot flung out a boot to block the ex-Eel’s path, but it remained a six-pointer after Harris-Tevita took over kicking duties to send the footy a centimetre past the left post. RTS had some dazzling footwork to get the restart under way, and Nikorima ended by kicking the ball dead, as Addin Fonua-Blake was taken off the park for an HIA.
The last time New Zealand had such a big lead after twenty minutes was in 2017, against Manly – and that time Manly won. The Sea Eagles now got their next big chance when RTS chased down a Reuben Garrick kick, and seemed to have collected it at the ten metre line, but lost it to Garrick five metres further forward. Manly now had their best chance all game – and it got better when Tevaga conceded an offside penalty, as DCE glimpsed a space in the line on play two, almost crashed over himself, and then shifted the footy to Trbojevic, who came even closer to putting it down. This play was scrutinized pretty heavily, with the Bunker finally deciding on a professional foul for Karl Lawton, who had tackled Trbojevic early, rather than a penalty try, since there were too many other New Zealand defenders around to guarantee that Jake would have scored. Lawton was sent to the bin, and DCE repeated the same combination with Trbojevic a play later, but with a twist – Trbojevic flicking the footy back for his halfback to commence a rapid left sweep that ended with Tevita Funa smashing over on the wing for the easiest four points of his career. The Warriors lost more headway with an unsuccessful Captain’s Challenge to contest whether Herbert had knocked on under the high ball, leading to an even longer period of Bunker scrutiny than Lawton and Trbojevic’s combination, and yet those long minutes without gameplay made it even more dramatic when the Sea Eagles scored immediately out of the scrum.Embed from Getty Images
No surprise that DCE was the magic factor here, receiving the footy on the right edge and holding up the defensive line before flicking it out to Moses Suli, who put in the hardest run of the night to get round Pompey and get the ball down. A lost ball from Hiku now solidified a bit of a turnaround for Manly, who had rocketed up to 89% of completions compared to the Warriors’ 84%. Yet just as Elliot’s error had undercut Levi’s run up the ruck, so Manly took a big hit here off a lost ball from Trbojevic, and then wasted their Captain’s Challenge to contest it, since the replay clearly showed the Warriors peeling away from the tackle, leaving a one-on-one contest on the ground between Trbojevic and Adam Blair, who also left the play for Turbo Senior to fumble the footy while getting to his feet to play it. Nevertheless, Herbert knocked on during the very next tackle, thanks to a low hit from Funa as he was trying to get away from Cade Cust. Taniela Paseka, who had come on for Fonua-Blake ten minutes before, took the next tackle, and the Sea Eagles stayed on the right side, only for Taupau to knock the slippery Steeden on while trying to squeeze out an offload. Herbert now made up for his loose carry in the most spectacular way, twenty seconds out from the siren, when he concluded a right sweep with a gymnastic contortion in the air, getting away from Elliot to put the footy down with his left arm before tumbling into touch, off a superb no-look pass from Hiku, who had received a good ball from Nikorima in turn.
Harris-Tevita missed the kick but the Warriors had still bounced back in a big way as they headed into the sheds double Manly at 10-20, and got a big burst of field position after half time, thanks to a fumble on the line from Brendan Elliot. First they got a repeat set, and then even more space when Taufua knocked on, accelerating rapidly from there to their next tryscoring sequence – a chip from Nikorima, followed by a hard run from Hiku, who got ahead of Elliot to put two hands on the football in goal. With this try against his former club Hiku had now scored against every NRL team, while Herbert took over goal kicking to put the Warriors sixteen ahead as the rain got even heavier. Nevertheless, Cust sent through a great kick a few minutes later, and the Sea Eagles found themselves with a full set within the ten, where Harris-Tevita was pinged for a ball strip on the very next tackle. Manly now got a restart on the very next play, on the play after that, and then the play after that, thanks to a Nikorima knock-on that set them up for a scrum feed at the ten. In effect, they had enjoyed four first tackles, and got another burst two plays later when Jack Hetherington made a high hit on Taupau, and both frontrowers left the park – Kapow for at least fifteen minutes, and Hetherington for ten. The Sea Eagles had scored their two tries with Lawton in the bin, so the next ten minutes would be crucial – and the next set in particular.Embed from Getty Images
It started off well, as Elliot surged up the right edge on play two, Cust put in a strong run through the ruck on play three, and Croker took Cust’s momentum right to the line, but eventually came to nothing when Garrick coughed up on the last. There may have been a Warriors strip involved, but the Sea Eagles had burned their Captain’s Challenge in the first half, and got another heartbreak on their next set, which DCE ended with a beautiful crossfield kick to the right corner. Garrick actually came up with it, only for Jennings to storm in for the trysaver of the night, forcing the Manly winger to lose it before he got a chance to score. Still, the Brookvale boys wouldn’t have to wait too long for their next points, as Elliot set up Suli for a big run on their next set, laying the platform for Cust to pop a short ball out for Haumole Olakau’atu to slam over beside the posts for his first NRL try. Garrick added the extras to make it a ten point game once again, and for a moment the Warriors seemed to have bounced back off a short kick from Harris-Tevita which Herbert tapped back for RTS to cross over the line, only for Roger the Dodger to be called offside. New Zealand got Hetherington again a moment later, but the Sea Eagles responded with their first try against thirteen men, thanks to a terrific last tackle intuition from DCE, who opted not to kick, instead sending a cut-out ball for Funa to offload right on the ground for Taufua, who crashed over on the left edge to narrow the deficit to four once Garrick hit the extras.
There’s something about seeing Taufua score that seems to lift the Manly side – he’s one of the last throwbacks to their last classic era – so this felt like the start of their comeback, especially since this last try had given them their narrowest margin of the night. Yet successive errors from Corey Waddell five and three minutes out quashed some of their momentum, while the team as a whole couldn’t quite regather to take advantage of a Hetherington error or escorts penalty from Hiku, as the Warriors came up with DCE’s final kick fifty seconds out from the siren. They took their last set pretty safely, eventually coming away with a much narrower win than the opening minutes might have suggested, but a win nonetheless – a pretty incredible achievement given both their position relative to Manly on the ladder, and their disorienting rotation of players over the last couple of weeks. Even the most ardent Manly fan would find it hard to grudge New Zealand a win after their turmoil of the COVID-19 era, so they’ll be in good form to take on a perfectionist Panthers at the same time next Friday. On the other side of the Steeden, this was a real shock for the Sea Eagles, who will be looking to come back big when they travel to Newcastle to take on the Knights next Saturday.