ROUND 9: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v. New Zealand Warriors (Lottoland, 9/2/21, 38-32)

Manly might have lost their last six games at Brookvale, but they had a resounding win against the Warriors on Sunday afternoon, as Tom Trbojevic not only put his best game since returning from injury, but one of the best matches of his entire career – a scintillating display of speed, strength, vision and leadership that saw Manly notch up an extraordinary string of tries in the last thirty minutes of the match, despite going neck and neck with New Zealand over the first half, and trailing by eight at half time.

Turbo couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate his century match, while his vision couldn’t have come at a better time, given that Josh Aloiai and Marty Taupau were out, with a wrist injury and concussion respectively, putting particular pressure on the Manly spine to come up with the big playmaking options. Taniela Paseka was the magic ingredient, though, getting the forwards rolling with a series of massive runs that cleared up space for Turbo and Daly Cherry-Evans to work it from side to side.

On the other side of the Steeden, the Warriors had their best forty minutes of the year against the Cowboys last week, and had Chanel Harris-Tevita back from the foot injury that floored him during the 16-20 loss to Newcastle in March. Yet they couldn’t keep pace with Turbo in the final quarter, as he racked up 3 linebreak assists, 5 linebreaks and 8 tackle busts, becoming the fourth man since 1999, after Cody Walker, Brett Kimmorley and Joey Johns, to garner 2 tries and 4 assists in a single match.

Kane Evans took the first hit-up in his fifth game as a Warrior, and Reuben Garrick fielded Kodi Nikorima’s first kick well, but Turbo didn’t shine in his first involvement, mistiming a potential linebreak assist to Brad Parker by sending the Steeden spinning over the sideline. New Zealand now had the first burst of field position on their second set, and were in the twenty by the third tackle, thanks to another charge from Evans, before Nikorima set up Harris-Tevita to crash over for his first game back since March.

This was a terrific sequence from the New Zealand halfback, who ran deep into the line on the left edge, abruptly changed direction, and then shifted it out to his five-eighth to score right beside the posts, before adding the first conversion to make it over a point per minute. Ken Maumalo dragged Daly Cherry-Evans three metres up the left edge on the third tackle, paving the way for the best set of the game thus far, culminating with a floating bomb from Nikorima that Bayley Sironen let bounce.

Still, the Sea Eagles got their first touch of the footy since the second minute, as Turbo tried to make up for his opening error with an attempted skip around  Rocco Berry, and Josh Schuster slammed into Roger Tuivasa-Sheck at the tail end of a Garrick bomb. RTS remained staunch, and Manly did better with defence on the next set, forcing the kick from halfway after a big effort to hold up Tohu Harris late in the tackle count, while DCE steadied the ship even further with a superb 40/20 next time he got boot to ball.

Manly now showed they could score just as effortlessly as the Warriors, as the Trbojevic brothers now put on a show – Jake with a hard run into the line and a dummy that almost caught the visitors by surprise, and Tom with a deft passage from left to right to collect a Lachlan Croker ball on the chest and slam over behind the posts like the New Zealand defence didn’t even exist. Garrick converted from right in front, and both teams had scored efficiently off their very first glimpses of field position.

Meanwhile, DCE had now kicked 5 40/20s against the Warriors, and 31 since 2011, while Kieran Foran had a big show with the boot at the end of the restart, sending through a soaring bomb that defied RTS before Josh Schuster almost caught it on the full but instead sent it reeling into the New Zealand fullback. The Sea Eagles sent it upstairs to contest the call, and the Bunker clearly showed that Roger had simply ricocheted it off Schuster’s chest without the Manly second-rower getting a hand to it.

Manly now settled into their second set from close-range, as DCE got things rolling with a rapid flick pass that saw Taniela Paseka almost crashed over on the right edge. The Sea Eagles shifted it left just as rapidly, where Garrick almost scored, before Turbo gathered the momentum of both wing plays into a sublime run back towards the middle of the field. Once against, DCE was the magic ingredient, shooting out a wide ball that Turbo caught on the outside of Adam Pompey before darting back inside.

This wasn’t David and Goliath so much as David and multiple Goliaths, as Turbo timed his putdown perfectly so that he pivoted, as if weightless, between a convergence of New Zealand defenders to score his second try 13 minutes into his century match. Garrick added the extras, Manly were twelve ahead, and DCE and Turbo were linking up as brilliantly as they ever have, with both tries coming off that spectacular 40/20.

Paseka drew on his previous run with five post-contact metres off the kickoff, making a good case for himself as replacement for Aloiai and Taupau, while Parker drew on his momentum with a prop-like run two tackles later. Haumole Olakau’tau almost lost the footy on the right edge, but transformed it into a late offload to Morgan Harper, before Maumalo caught DCE’s first bomb to finally bring this Manly possession to a close.

New Zealand had to resume their momentum immediately on this set, and they got rolling with a late offload from Evans to Nikorima, but they didn’t have much of a kick chase to contest an enormous bomb from Harris-Tevita that Jason Saab was able to clean up pretty clinically. Yet they got another chance when DCE made an unforced error midway through the next – an uncharacteristic fumble in the play-the-ball that had the potential to be a major turning-point if the Warriors could capitalise here.

They delivered immediately, thanks to a big play from Wayde Egan, who made a huge dummy left and then shot out a no-look pass to Tohu Harris, on his right, who hit the footy at speed, storming through a high tackle from Paseka and a torso tackle from Croker to put down another four points. New Zealand had scored just as rapidly off the second Manly error as the first, so they had a real chance to regain the momentum if they could follow the Sea Eagles by notching up back-to-back tries.

Momentum was not on the cards, however, as the restart was paused to examine a crusher tackle from Saab on Pompey, and to give Pompey himself some medical attention after he went to ground. Saab was put on report, Pompey left the field, and Leeson Ah Mau came on, but in Evans’ place, leaving the Warriors with twelve men for a few seconds before Pompey came back onto the park. For a moment, it looked like the visitors might accelerate on the right, but it ended with a forward pass from RTS.

Just when it looked we might be in for an arm-wrestle, Keppie put terrific pressure on Harris-Tevita’s next kick – so much pressure, in fact, that you had to wonder why Chanel went through with it at all. Maybe it was rustiness after so much time on the sideline, but even so this was an enormous effort from Keppie, who not only absorbed the full brunt of the kick at close range but came up with the footy himself. It was pretty disappointing, then, when Harper put it down a couple of tackles later.

Once again, though, the Warriors had a break midway through the set, as Paseka was taken off the park for an HIA, further depleting the Sea Eagles’ front row as Toafofoa Sipley came on in his place. Berry continued the Warriors’ momentum up the right edge, before the visitors effected a rapid shift to the right that ended with another poorly contested bomb to Saab’s corner. Speaking of Saab, Harper now followed in his footsteps, taking out the frustration of his dropped ball with the second crusher tackle.

Turbo got away with a shoddy play-the-ball two tackles later, and Harper dragged the defence right to the line on play four, before DCE came up with a beautiful chip to the left corner that Garrick tapped back to Parker, who would have scored if not for the most scrambling New Zealand defence so far. Turbo had his first collect in a while to collect a Chanel kick before it could transpire into a 30/20, before taking a quick tap after a penalty from Tohu Harris for a hit on the last to almost score the next try.

Keppie drew on his trajectory two plays later, reaching out a hand but not quite reaching the chalk, thanks to a hand in the ruck from Harris and then a ball strip from RTS. Everything was aligning for a Manly try, but in the perverse spirit of this particular game Turbo mirrored RTS’ forward pass, on the other side of the park, to Garrick, who had open space all the way to the chalk. Yet Keppie cemented this as one of his best ever forty minutes of footy by rattling the ball from Josh Curran early in the next set.

This had to be the moment for Manly, so it was agonising when Schuster threw a poorly-timed no-look pass on the first play, sending the Steeden reeling for New Zealand to take possession immediately – and get the first restart, off an error from Jake Trbojevic. Turbo did well to take the first bomb, even if he was chipped by Parker, and Keppie came off the park for a well-earned break as Zac Saddler joined the fray, as DCE leaped up to punch a Nikorima kick over the dead ball line for the first dropout.

It turned into the first penalty kick after Harper was pinged for an escorts, putting the Warriors 14-12 after Nikorima booted it through from right in front. Bunty Afoa got them rolling again with a massive run off the kickoff, Maumalo charged up the middle, and Nikorima sent it high, but Garrick was still safe beneath it. Meanwhile, news came back from the sheds that Paseka had passed his HIA – good news for the Sea Eagles in the absence of their two big personality props – as the half-time siren started to loom.

The next set was a killer for Manly, as RTS showcased his best vision and leadership so far, taking the footy right up the middle, where he made a half-break, and offloaded to Nikorima, fragmenting the Sea Eagles’ defence enough for Harris to bust through a couple of tackles on the right edge. The hosts hadn’t quite recovered by the time that Nikorima careened a crazy bomb to the right edge, where Saab was finally defeated, spilling the Steeden and leaving it open for Josh Curran to put down his first NRL try.

The Warriors had the biggest lead of the match so far once Nikorima added the extras, and while Afoa took another mammoth run on tackle one, they didn’t get to the end of this set before the siren rang out. Paseka made up for his time on the sideline with more post-contact metres on the first set back, and Edward Kosi sailed through the air to try and collect the next kick, making contact with Garrick in the process, who was pinged for a dangerous tackle even though Kasi really careened straight into him.

New Zealand consolidated into a really strong set, and while Turbo made a heroic effort to barge through a sea of defenders and make his way back into the field of play, they ended with the first dropout of the game off a deft Nikorima kick. Saab came in to bump off Pompey on the right edge, and Turbo finished what he started at the end of the last set, catching the last kick on the full to get his men moving back up the field. Nevertheless, a bad pass from Schuster gifted the Warriors another shot at the line.

RTS showcased some of his trademark footwork out of the scrum, the Warriors got six again off a ruck error from Jake Turbo, Ah Mau plunged over the line, and RTS came up with a second dazzling run for what would have been a certain try if not for a last-minute effort from Croker. All the pieces were in place, so it was awful to see the last ingredient come apart – a cut-out pass from Nikorima out to Berry, who saw it bounce at his feet instead of taking it on the chest with no one defending him on the wing.

Conversely, the Sea Eagles absorbed the rhythm of this aborted right-edge sweep on their very next set, showing the Warriors how to really do this play right – pass from Trbojevic, cut-out pass from Foran, and finally a cut-out pass from Turbo to Harper, who brushed off RTS and crashed through another two defenders for four more points. Garrick had his hardest angle of the night so far, and swung the Steeden across the face of the posts, keeping it a four-point game as the fiftieth minute drew near.

Paseka continued to play at full throttle on the restart, so you had to wonder whether he might have a try in him at some point over the next thirty minutes as well. Manly got a fresh set on the last, off an escorts penalty from Egan, and sure enough Paseka took the footy right up to the goal line, drawing in several New Zealand big men to hold him up over the chalk. Jake Trbojevic followed in his wake, and another forward scored a moment later, as Olakau’atu collected a flat ball from DCE for his second NRL try.

At least that’s how it initially looked, since the Bunker replay showed that Olakau’atu hadn’t quite maintained possession on his way to the ground, due to the unusual way he was gripping the footy – with his right hand poised at the tip, ball held perpendicular chest, as he brought his left hand under for support. With even a little less pressure, he probably would have made it, but as it stood the Warriors had the best single let-off of the game, even if Curran put down the ball – again – on the very next play.

Manly looked determined to reset on this set, bursting out of the scrum with some of their fastest plays so far – first up the right edge, then the left, before they condensed, refined and accelerated their previous right-wing sweep on tackle two. It was almost worth having Olakau’atu’s try called back to see this sublime moment of consolidation, which once again ended with an assist from Turbo, who collected a wide ball from DCE and shifted it out for Saab to pop it down without a Warrior in sight.

Garrick had the same angle this time around, and this time he made the conversion, correcting his previous trajectory with a terrific strike right past the right post. Reece Walsh took the kickoff for his first play, after Egan came off the park, and Turbo broke into space on the second tackle, popping it out to Saab who was taken down by Walsh at the very moment he received the ball. They slowed down a little on play four, and decelerated further when Foran grubbered just a little too hard for a dropout.

The Sea Eagles wasted their Captain’s Challenge trying to contest the last part of the play, which had seen Garrick tumble over the dead ball line and pop the footy back in field, but the replay showed that RTS had a boot over the line as well when it came off his thigh. Meanwhile, the Warriors got some much-needed breathing-space when the Bunker was scrutinizing the footage, although they didn’t do much with their next set, thanks to a shallow kick on the last, and a lack of any really big power house plays.

Turbo didn’t show any signs of slowing down, however, setting up DCE for a wide ball out to Parker midway on the next set, before RTS had to really scramble to clean up Daly’s biggest and most dangerous bomb of the game. Little by little, and despite being only two points ahead, the Sea Eagles were starting to feel like the dominant team, and seemed on the brink of a torrent of unanswered tries as the third quarter wound down, even if they lost Paseka to the bench right as he copped an HIA-worthy falcon.

The next try came as clinically on the left edge as the last two had come on the right – a beautiful assist from Turbo, who caught-and-passed a wide ball for the most brilliantly timed pass of the match in turn. The footy was always going to catch Garrick on the chest, although once again Garrick didn’t convert. In any case, this was mainly the Turbo show now – his best game since returning from injury, with an astonishing 2 tries, 9 tackle busts, 4 linebreaks, 3 linebreak assists and 3 try assists in 60 minutes.

In that sense, this was also the most significant game for the Sea Eagles’ spine since the match in Mudgee against Gold Coast – proof that they could not only rally again around Turbo, as occurred in Glen Willow, but that he could lift them to their most sublime moments together again. Sure enough, Turbo condensed his wing assists to a third and even more rarefied incarnation on the nest set, collecting the footy from Jake, breaking into open space, squaring up RTS and sending Saab over for a double.

This was now not merely Turbo’s best game since returning from injury – it was one of the best games of his entire career. Just as Garrick had corrected the sideline conversion for his second shot on the right, so he steered it through here, putting the Sea Eagles twelve ahead with seventeen on the clock, and twenty unanswered points. We were at that exciting moment in a rugby league match when it felt like one side might coast and coast on unbridled momentum, fueled by an irresistible sense of flow.

The Sea Eagles accelerated once again on the restart, and came close to another try on the left edge, off a Harper offload back to Garrick, before shifting without a beat to the other side, where Saab came up with a hat trick at the end of another dazzling sweep. DCE popped out a wide ball from Harper, who drew on his near-assist for Garrick to draw in Maumalo and clear up just enough space for Saab to drive deep into the corner, leap into the air, and land Steeden-first for another four once Garrick hit the right post.

The Warriors needed to score on their next set to have any chance of staying in the game – and they did. It wasn’t pretty, and compared to the clinical efficiency of the Manly tries it was the messiest play of the night, but they still got the job done. It came under the next high ball, which Parker leaped up to collect, lost, and scrambled to put down on the turf, only for Harris-Tevita to arrive first and snag his third career double. Nikorima added a fast conversion, and his men were ten behind with ten to go.

For a moment, New Zealand glimpsed some more position off a Zac Saddler error, but DCE stepped into the spotlight, slamming himself into Curran to force the second-rower’s third mistake of the night – the perfect way for Daly to rally the troops as the last eight minutes of the match arrived. There was a brief pause when Curran was put on report for high contact on Keppie – a pretty fractional call given the events of the last week – before Garrick returned Manly to a converted try lead with a penalty kick.

Unexpectedly, Turbo knocked on the kickoff, giving the Warriors another chance to capitalise off a Manly error – and they did, three tackles later, when Walsh collected an offload from Harris, and then played like he was Harris’ stature himself, slamming through a mountain of defenders and coming to ground half a metre out from the line, before keeping his arm off the ground and avoiding a double movement to slam down the most heroic try so far. Nikorima added the extras, and we were at a 32-38 game.

Manly defended well on the next set, even when the Warriors broke into space up the right side, and Saab took Harris-Tevita’s bomb on the full, hurtling straight into the kick chase for his single best take of the afternoon. DCE drove it deep into the corner at the end of the next set, but booted it too hard, gifting New Zealand seven tackles for their last sustained possession of the afternoon. Keppie cleaned up RTS, Jake Turbo cleaned up a Harris offload, and yet Curran tapped back Harris-Tevita’s kick for a left sweep.

Maumalo found himself at the end of it, and would have scored, and possibly brought the game to golden point, if Saab and Turbo hadn’t stormed over to drag him into touch. After so many sublime linkups between Saab and Turbo over the course of the game this was a poetic ending to one of the very best games in the Manly fullback’s career, and one of the best century matches in NRL history. They’ll be looking for a big against the Broncos next week – keen to cement themselves as finals footy contenders- while the Warriors will be looking to channel this spirit when they host Parra on Sunday.

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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