The Dogs were keen to avoid seven straight losses for the first time since 2008 when they hosted Manly at ANZ on Friday night, for their last big chance to put themselves beyond the reach of the wooden spoon in 2020. That said, Manly were also stuck on 12 competition points after a strong start to the year, and hadn’t won at ANZ since 2013, having lost five games to Souths, four to the Dogs, one to Parra and one against the Roosters, in the 2013 Grand Final, in the seven years that had elapsed in between.
It was a special game for both teams, marking Des Hasler’s 250th match as Manly coach, Josh Jackson’s 199th appearance without missing a single fixture in three years of football, along with the first time that Albert and Will Hopoate had played against each other. No surprise, then, that both teams dug deep, resulting in some really remarkable second-phase play, and a surprisingly close contest for long passages of the match.
The Dogs had two big men off the park – Luke Thompson with calf soreness, and Ofahiki Ogden with a fractured cheekbone – bringing Matt Doorey and Renouf To’omago into the starting side in their place. Both sides had a reshuffled backline to make things interesting – Marcelo Montoya, Kerrod Holland and Kieran Foran were all out for the Dogs, bringing DWZ to the centres and Jayden Okunbor to the wing, while Jorge Taufua and Josh Schuster were out, bringing Abbas Miski onto the park.
Raymond Faitala-Mariner got the Dogs rolling with a strong charge on the third carry, and Miski tapped an average opening bomb from DCE back in the field of play, but not without getting a boot to the sideline in the process. Canterbury got the first penalty a few tackles later, when Marty Taupau put a dangerous hit on Jake Averillo, and then six again when Josh Jackson, in his 199th game, forced a ruck error from Jake Turbo. Yet it all came apart when Lachlan Lewis lost the ball cold, off a wide pass on play two.
This was a big let-off for the Sea Eagles, and they accelerated on the next set, thanks to a big run down the middle from Addin Fonua-Blake, and an equally good carry from Taupau, who offloaded out of a two-man tackle for Funa. For a moment Funa looked set to break through the line, but was downed by an ankle tap from Jackson. He did manage to offload before he hit the turf, where DCE got a boot to it, but Jayden Okunbor was there to clean it up, and the Dogs scored off this next bout of possession.
This sequence was like watching a condensed and corrected version of the previous Manly play, as Averillo collected a wide ball from JMK, and offloaded through two defenders to Matt Doorey, who danced over an ankle tap from Funa to smash over the line and score. Nick Meaney added the two, and the Dogs were 6-0 with eight minutes on the clock, while DCE came up with an even worse version of his opening bomb to the left, sending the kickoff out on the full to give Canterbury an augmented restart.
Dallin Watene Zelezniak took his first big run of the night from the centres, and Renouf To’omago ferried it up to the twenty, before the Dogs got another restart down their own end, this time from Brad Parker, who was called offside. After some deliberating, however, they opted to take the two, as Meaney sent his second goal through the posts from a similar spot to his first. This time Daly did better with the kickoff, but the Dogs didn’t show any signs of slowing down, working the footy right up the middle.
Lewis ended with the biggest bomb so far, and Albert Hopoate survived Meaney’s kick chase, while Reimis Smith and Lewis managed to clean up Morgan Harper before he could get an offload away. Daly was forced to kick early in the tackle count, and still Okunbor managed to contain it – his second successive moment of brilliance at the start of a set, following his big run last time the Dogs had ball in hand. Lewis was even better a few plays later, scooping up a DCE grubber that seemed destined to find goal.
By the fifteen minute mark, Canterbury had 7/8 completed sets, while the Sea Eagles still hadn’t reached first gear. DCE tried to reset the rhythm with the first spiral bomb of the night, but Okunbor was safe again, while Meaney cleaned up Daly’s next kick without any trouble either. With Turbo off the park, and DCE oddly muted, Manly needed either a Canterbury error or a big one-man effort to get back in the match – and they got it when RMF was pinged for crowding Parker early in the tackle count.
Even then, this had been a pretty poor play-the-ball from Parker – and, despite their first restart, off a Tolman ruck error, the Sea Eagles conceded two straight penalties over the next few minutes, when Cade Cust was pinged for a second effort, and Curtis Sironen for a strip. Meanwhile, Canterbury showed no signs of slowing down, winning a Captain’s Challenge and then adding a second penalty kick after Trbojevic was penalised for an obstruction, and Taupau for his second dangerous hit of the night.
Finally, DCE defied Okunbor, who reached out his hand to collect Daly’s second spiral bomb, but couldn’t quite contain it. To his credit, DCE now consolidated immediately, tucking the footy under his arm and curving up the right edge, before shifting back inside, where he assisted Taniela Paseka for a linebreak and try under the crossbar. This was the best run so far, from the left fend on Reimis Smith to the pivot away from Will Hopoate, leaving Paseka with no defence to contend with as he crossed over.
The Bulldogs got six again on their next set, and Okunbor sent out a balletic offload to JMK, while pivoting on one boot in the tackle, so for a moment it looked like Canterbury had regathered seamlessly. Lewis popped a beautiful harbour bridge ball out to Meaney, the Dogs got six again, and they seemed in prime position to recover their ten point lead, only for Albert Hopoate to hold up brother Will on the left edge, before a Manly pack effort cleaned up DWZ when he caught Lewis’ kick right on the try line.
This was superb defence from Manly – calm, collected, patient – and galvanised them into another try on the very next set. Parker and Miski made good meters up the left, Funa offloaded on the ground to DCE, and Daly culminated his most involved set with a superb grubber for Sironen to cross over untouched. If the first try had come off DCE’s best single run, then this try came off DCE’s silkiest sequence of runs, levelling the scoreline with two minutes left until the sheds.
Daly shanked the conversion attempt to the left of the posts, in his third poor kick of the night, but Manly had only the briefest of flashbacks to their spotty opening, since they scored on the restart, on the brink of half time. Sean Keppie got them rolling with a no-look offload out to DCE, the Sea Eagles got six again with forty seconds to go, Levi offloaded to Cust, Manly got another restart with twenty seconds to go, and finally Parker collected a short one from Cust to bring Manly to a six point lead on the siren.
Manly maintained their momentum after the break, giving the Dogs a run for their money on their first set, when Parker batted a Harper kick back to Trbojevic, who offloaded right on the ground for his halfback. Daly couldn’t quite get over the line, but this was still a dramatic shift from how the Sea Eagles had started the first forty, especially since Canterbury lost the momentum of their own first set when play was paused for Keppie to get medical attention, after copping some heavy chin contact.
The Sea Eagles were all speed on their next set, moving their way up the middle like Canterbury in the first half, and getting restarts off ruck errors from Averillo and Lewis. Cust was five metres out on the first tackle, Levi charged at the line on the second, Funa tried to tumble over Lewis on the third, and DCE opened up space on the fourth for Jack Gosiewski, who skidded through an Averillo ankle tap and ducked under a Hopoate tackle to score a try, after looking like he might not pass an HIA earlier on.
Paseka was averaging around ten metres a run, and continued to be immense on the restart. While Gosiewski followed him with a restless run across the ruck, he lost the footy at the end of it, before Harper took out the frustration of this truncated restart with a second effort a tackle later. This was the Bulldogs’ first big chance in a long time, but they got another unfortunate pause in play when Gosiewski headed off for his second HIA, after copping an elbow in the face from Sausao Sue, right on the line.
This was a bit of a drab moment for both teams, although Averillo steadied the ship with a beautifully weighted bomb to the left corner that got his men six again. Yet another pause ensued when Lewis took a high hit from Corey Waddell on play one, but the Canterbury halfback didn’t follow Gosiewski off the park. The Dogs now had to accelerate quickly to compensate for these last two breaks in play – and they did on the second tackle, with a terrific left sweep that almost put Okunbor over in the corner.
Sue was enormous on the next play, barging in low to force another penalty – offside from Levi – and a formal warning for DCE. The Dogs swept left, and then headed back in field, where Averillo followed in Sue’s footsteps, running more like a forward than a half, before Hoppa compressed their earlier right side play with a harbour bridge ball to Okunbor. Finally, it all came together with an eccentric halves combo – another great kick from Averillo, and even better take from Lewis, who carried it over the line.
DCE was reaching out his palms to collect it, but Lewis snatched it from his grasp, meaning that Daly didn’t have time to tackle him on his way in goal. Meaney booted it through from right in front, and the Bulldogs were only a converted try behind, although Manly didn’t have to wait long to recover their lead. Canterbury got to the end of their restart, as Jackson got his seventeenth run of the night, and Lewis popped a nice bomb down the left side, but the Sea Eagles scored next time they had the ball.
Funa got them started with a massive run down the middle, and Harper broke through the line on the right, leaving his former team mates behind him for the best single carry of the night. First he bumped off Lewis, then he curved through Jackson and Faitala-Mariner, before jumping over an ankle tap from Hoppa, and finally coming to ground beneath Meaney, who never had a chance of halting his flow. DCE shanked it left once again, but even so Manly had flipped the switch, and stolen the Dogs’ ten point lead.
Both teams struggled to score over the next fifteen minutes, going error for error before Taupau assisted himself for one of the strangest Manly tries of the season. Finding himself with the footy right on the line, Kapow grubbered it over, as Lewis fumbled it and left it open for him to slam in and score beside the right post. This time DCE converted – the last points of the night for Manly, who were now double Canterbury at 32-12, and tenth on the live ladder, between the Tigers and Warriors.
Taupau was clearly pumped for the first carry of the restart, and Funa broke through the line on the right edge, where he might just have scored if he’d dummied back inside. But it was now Manly’s turn to have a momentum-killer, as play paused for Cust, whose ankle twisted under him as he tried to steamroll over a low tackle from JMK. This was the longest stoppage of the night, giving the cameras time to pan over the entire Manly side as Cust was helped from the field, replaced by Lachlan Croker.
By this stage Manly had lost the early rhythm of this restart, as a Funa error paved the way for the Bulldogs’ third and final try. Brandon Wakeman stripped the footy from Sue early in the set, but the big prop got his own back by slamming DCE to ground a few tackles later. Canterbury had the scrum feed at the ten, Faitala-Mariner made big post-contact metres up the left edge, Lewis fed a harbour bridge ball out to Reimis Smith, and Smith flicked a no-look, ten-metre offload back to Meaney in turn.
This was the Bulldogs’ most flamboyant set so far, so it felt right when Okunbor ended it all with a power move, leaping up to collect a Lewis bomb and twisting to ground it beneath Miski in one balletic motion. After the longest Bunker scrutiny of the night, the try was granted – the perfect ending to one of Okunbor’s most impressive stints in the blue and white jersey, even if the Dogs wouldn’t manage to score again.
In fact, the last five minutes were pretty uneventful, with no penalties, errors, linebreaks or other plays of note from either team. Despite the Manly win, this was still a strong show from the Bulldogs, so they’ll be feeling pumped when they take on the Bunnies for the first match of Round 19. On the other side of the Steeden, this was a pretty dominant display from the Sea Eagles in the end, although DCE will want to start more consistently when they host the Titans at Brooky next Saturday afternoon.