ROUND 19: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v. Gold Coast Titans (Lottoland, 19/9/20)

Tom Trbojevic was back for his first game since Round 6 for the last game at Brookvale in 2020, motivating Manly to search for only their second win at their home ground with Taniela Paseka named at prop, Tevita Funa out on the wing, and Lachlan Croker at five-eighth. Meanwhile, Gold Coast had Kevin Proctor back from suspension, and were looking to notch up four consecutive wins for the first time since 2014 – and they got it, beating Manly 42-24 for one of the hardest games in Turbo’s career.

The Sea Eagles got a penalty on their third tackle, thanks to a lift from Mitch Rein, and capitalised immediately, rolling up the park for Turbo to take his first touch on the third, before brother Jake popped it across to Marty Taupau and received the offload back from Kapow in turn. That focus on the left edge paid dividends, as Daly Cherry-Evans sent Jack Gosewksi through a gap to cross over untouched before Gold Coast had even got a hand to the football.

DCE booted through the extras a moment later, and the Sea Eagles were two points per minute, as the Brooky faithful gave them a standing ovation. Gold Coast had only led after twenty in three games this year, so they remained calm as the hosts looked for more options on the left edge, getting to their first set when Anthony Don cleaned up the kick, and receiving their first field position when Morgan Boyle was pinged for a dangerous tackle of his own.

AJ Brimson sent a harbour bridge ball out to Corey Thompson on the left, and Jamal Fogarty ended with a chip to the right, where Funa made a good start on the wing by collecting the footy on the full and getting his men their first restart. Jake Trbojevic already had as many runs as in the entirety of last week’s game, muscling his way up the middle now with Taupau, before the Titans responded in kind, charting out the middle third of the park where Danny Levi was penalised for a strip.

Despite Manly’s fast start, Gold Coast were winning the field position, as Brimson retried the same cut-out pass for Thompson, except that this time the ex-Tiger ran it back into the middle of the park, and the Titans got it out to Treymain Spry on the other wing on the same play. Tyrone Peachey’s next tackle was more conservative, but Gold Coast had built momentum and got another shot when Harper was called offside.

For a moment it looked like the Titans had made good on the rapid side sweeps that were already a hallmark of the game, only for Brad Parker to save the day with a terrific legs tackle just as Don seemed set to score. DCE got six again three plays later, Taupau and Lachlan Croker shaped to send Turbo through the line, galvanising Rein to follow Parker with a longer-range trysaver.  Yet with Young Tounamaipea catching the footy in goal, the Titans got seven more, and delivered immediately on tackle zero.

Receiving the footy from Tounamaipea, Brimson brushed off Albert Hopoate and was ten metres ahead of the defence by the time he crossed the halfway line, decelerating as he reached the chalk to put down the softest try of the match. There was a brief pause as referee Matt Noyen left the park with a calf injury, perhaps explaining why the Titans weren’t able to gain much ground on the restart, as Fogarty resorted to a pretty standard kick to prevent Manly getting too much position.

The hosts got a penalty off a high hit from Peachey halfway through the next set, but Harper lost the ball into a Thompson tackle, and so Gold Coast had a second shot at their restart out of the scrum. This time they built more momentum, receiving a restart on play one, before Parker prevented a second linebreak, from Fogarty, who regathered with a deft chip to the right edge that Funa was forced to pop into touch for the first dropout of the afternoon.

DCE booted it back beyond the Gold Coast forty, so Sam Stone could only make it to the halfway line on play one, but Ash Taylor compensated with the clutchiest grubber so far on tackle four – a low, skittering effort that bounced awkwardly for Tounamaipea right on the try line. The big no. 4 did well to fumble it into his legs as Hopoate came in for the tackle, and appeared to regather it without contacting the Manly winger, only for the Bunker to come back with a call of no try.

This was a pretty good turnaround for Manly, so it was agonising when a rusty Turbo put the ball down under a combined tackle from Proctor and Fogarty – especially since Gold Coast made good by scoring out of the subsequent scrum. After some hesitation about packing it, DCE gave away six more, and took out his frustration with a high hit on Moeaki Fotuaiki a couple of minutes later, five metres out from the Manly line.

For a moment, the Titans looked like they might take the two, but they made the right decision to tap and go, finally nailing the harbour bridge ball they’d been playing with on the left edge all game. This time the assist came from Fogarty, who sent a beautiful parabola across to Thompson, for possibly the Titans’ closest try all year. Twisting towards the sideline to take the brunt of Hopoate’s tackle, Thompson’s back foot came down a milimetre out, as he got the ball down just before tumbling into touch.

A minute later, Tounamaipea finally got his try, ducking away from a DCE tackle, sliding to ground and keeping his ball-carrying arm off the turf, relying on momentum to avoid a second movement. Manly now hadn’t scored since the first two minutes, yet got their best burst of field position in some time, thanks to a set restart, and then a midfield linebreak from Paseka through Taylor and Thompson, who then reached out a hand to stop a right sweep thirty seconds later, but knocked on instead.

This was a critical scrum for the Sea Eagles, so it was a big rhythm-killer when Thompson made up for his error by following Brimson with another sublime long-range burst. Intercepting a wide ball from DCE, Thompson sped up the left sideline and abruptly shifted back in field, so that Daly could only reach him by the Gold Coast forty. Collecting a quick play-the-ball, Tounaimapea dummied at the thirty to confound Hopoate, and danced over an ankle tap for Funa to put down his first career double.

With Taylor adding the extras Gold Coast were quadruple Manly – the first time in six weeks that they’d scored twenty in a game, let alone in a single half, in what was already their highest first-stanza score of the season. It was paramount that the Sea Eagles score before the break, and yet it took a string of Titans errors to get them the chocolates – escorts from Don, strip from Lisone, ruck error from Peachey, and finally offside from Brimson.

DCE got them underway with a couple of big runs, sending the footy back into the middle of the field, where Jake Trbojevic shifted it left before popping it inside for Paseka to run through an enormous gap in the defence for a try that was almost as soft as Gold Coast’s two long-range efforts. Yet this turned out to be a pretty anomalous moment in the match, as both teams returned to more or less double their scores, resulting in a second half that was a mirror image, in some ways, of the first.

Gold Coast rested Thompson after he’d sustained some hamstring issues and lower back tightness, and did the same for Mitch Rein after a contusion around the eye, but resumed their rhythm with a restart on their first set, as Taylor continued to take on the line. Turbo now started to struggle, putting down a Funa pass early in Manly’s second set – and the Titans responded with a rapid right sweep that didn’t even need to find the corner, as Stone smashed through Turbo for four more.

Full credit goes to Sam Lisone for the run that set it all up, and while Taylor missed the kick, the Titans were still fourteen ahead. They stayed strong on the restart, with Arrow making fifteen metres up the left edge and Fogarty sending it over the sideline to give his men some breathing-space as Manly packed the scrum. Taylor, Arrow and Proctor dragged Funa back to the ten on tackle one, so it was a boon for the Sea Eagles when they got six again on the next play – their best field position since the break.

After two long-range tries, the Titans almost got their most spectacular here, as Spry popped a Harper pass into the air, secured it in his left hand, shifted it to his right, and stormed pass Turbo down the sideline, changing direction slightly at the ten to make sure the Manly fullback couldn’t reach him. He remained inside the field of play when he came to ground, but was defied by the Brookvale trysaver of the year from Funa, who brought him up short at the last to force a double movement.

This was the perfect window for Manly to score, and they made some good headway with two power plays – Curtis Sironen popping a neat offload out to Paseka on the short side, and DCE banging through a banana kick to the left edge of the park. Yet Don cleaned up the high ball without any troubles, while the Titans leapfrogged back down their own end when Jake Trbojevic was called outside the ten a tackle later.

Gold Coast capitalised clinically, moving right with a big series of passes, until Don took the tackle and shifted it left, where Turbo had his rustiest moment so far, banking on ushering the footy into touch only for Proctor to fly ahead of him and slam it down on the cusp of the dead ball line. Earlier in the year Turbo probably would have anticipated the Steeden careening away to the Gold Coast captain at the last minute – he’s that good when he’s in his prime – but he failed to read the play properly here.

Another missed conversion kept the score to 12-30, but the Titans didn’t have to wait long to put more points on the board, as Brimson cemented himself as the form fullback on the park by following Tounamaipea with a double on the restart. Lisone took a massive hit-up to get his men rolling, and Tounamaipea made twenty metres up the left edge, as Taylor sent Brimson through the line, and Turbo became the casualty for a second successive try, clutching his left elbow in pain as he came to ground.

Luckily Turbo was able to get to his feet as Taylor added his first conversion in some time. He wasn’t the only Sea Eagle to miss Brimson either, with Sironen going down in an attempted ankle tap just after Taylor’s superb run into the line that set up AJ’s assist. Still, Turbo didn’t look in great shape, bringing his Origin contention into question as he winced with every movement from the backline, and retreated to a more modest distance from the next couple of key plays.

Meanwhile Taupau got ready to return from the bench and add some grunt to the Manly attacking, as DCE tried to compensate for Turbo’s decline in the spine by kicking for himself, only to knock on as he tumbled into Proctor. It was a heroic effort from Daly, but even so this period was the darkest day for Manly in 2020, cementing their worst ever winning percentage at Brooky as two more mistakes from Turbo set up Spry to get his try after all.

Manly got a brief burst when a Don knock-on was followed by a Fotuaika ruck error, but it all ended with a knock-on from Turbo, who was fed a pretty trick ball from Harper out of dummy half. Foutaika almost broke through on play three, Whitbread offloaded to Brimson, and Foutiaka forced Croker into a five-second tackle to take him to ground. Finally, Spry scored when Turbo failed to collect the kick, gathering the footy so efficiently you’d think the Manly fullback had passed it straight to him.

With Taylor booting it through for 42, we were at the biggest winning margin for any Gold Coast rugby league team, as Turbo finally left the field. Manly followed with one of their few repeat sets of the second half, and Gosiewski made the most of it with the only try option really left to them – a tough one-man effort – as he collected the footy from Levi, bumped off Stone, and barged into Fogarty, nestling it under his shoulder and curving him beneath him with his left palm for the hardest putdown of the game.

Manly scored their last try off a Foutuaika error, as Taupau sent Sironen through the line on the right edge. From there, the big second-rower popped it back inside to DCE, who bobbled and then recovered the footy to get past Brimson and score – an important rallying-point for the Sea Eagles, and a testament to Daly’s leadership at the tail end of thirty of the most painful minutes in Turbo’s first-grade career.

Neither team would score again, and neither could reach the finals, but in its own way this felt like a finals victory for Gold Coast, giving them a glimpse of ninth after being contenders for the spoon in the first half of the year. On the other side of the Steeden, this was an emotional loss for Manly, who will be looking to do it for Turbo, play for pride, and rally around DCE’s leadership when they take on the Warriors at Central Coast for their last game of the season.

About Billy Stevenson (750 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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