ROUND 16: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v. Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (Bankwest Stadium, 3/7/21, 0-66)

Trent Barrett and Des Hasler were both coaching against their former clubs when Manly rocked up to play the Bulldogs at Bankwest on Saturday afternoon. The Sea Eagles only needed to win this game by twelve to beat the Roosters for fifth on the ladder but Daly Cherry-Evans’ impassioned speech in the sheds before kickoff made it clear they were going for a much bigger margin. Fuelled by the disappointment of an Origin loss, DCE galvanised his men into a stunning 66 unanswered points, including hat tricks for Tommy Turbo and Jason Saab. 

For the first time since 1994, then, the Sea Eagles scored 60 points, while the Bulldogs had to reach back to 1959 for the last time they conceded 60. After putting 50 on North Queensland and 56 on Gold Coast, Manly also became only the fourth team to break the century in three consecutive games, after the Bulldogs of 2003, the Eels of 2001 and the Roosters of 1935. Between the Turbo and Saab hat tricks, and this hat trick of centuries, they completed their long comeback from the winless first month of the season.

On the other side of the Steeden, Canterbury were so wracked by absences that it was perhaps surprising they didn’t concede more. Adam Elliott, Chris Smith, Nick Cotric, Jayden Okunbor and Raymond Faiatala-Mariner were all off the park with injuries or suspensions, while Dylan Napa, Aaron Schoupp, Brandon Wakeman, Corey Waddell and Sione Katoa were all casualties of the Covid breach that had cost the club such a hefty fine, clearing up space for Bailey Biondi-Odo, Falakiko Manu and Chris Patolo to debut in the blue and white.

The strongest period for this depleted Bulldogs side was the third quarter, when they managed to keep Manly to two tries, and dishevel Turbo into a hat trick of missed opportunites, bookened by a pair of forward passes. Yet that couldn’t eclipse the theme and variations of the first stanza, when Saab, DCE and Turbo seemed capable of endless combinations and permutations on the right edge. Nor could it dim a superb kicking game from Reuben Garrick, who was booting it at 74% so far this season but made it 11/11 here. 

Jack Hetherington and Luke Thompson took the first two runs of the afternoon, while Thompson took another run on the fourth. Turbo took Jake Averillo’s kick on the full at his twenty-metre line, and Marty Taupau did well to maintain possession in the face of a combined tackle from Hetherington and Josh Jackson, before DCE booted his first kick deep into the right corner, where Meaney took it in his ten. Jackson made brutal contact with Haumole Olaka’atu and Jake Averillo took a second kick in his own forty.

Three plays into the next set, Brad Parker broke into space up the left edge, bringing his men to the brink of the ten for the best attacking opportunity so far. They swept right, where Olakau’atu broke the ten, shaped for an offload, but got an offside instead, from Jackson, who conceded a full set on the Canterbury line. Tui Katoa did well to prevent Jason Saab crossing on the same edge, and while Morgan Harper found himself in the same part of the park a play later, he dodged back inside, where he shrugged off Manu and tempted a crusher from JMK.

With a hand in the ruck from Averillo a play later, the Dogs needed a Manly error here to get them out of trouble. Instead, they got the first great left sweep of the game – a short fast ball from Kieran Foran to Turbo, and a catch-and-pass from Turbo to Meaney, who smashed over on the wing with the Canterbury custodian on his back. Reuben Garrick was sitting at 53% from the left sideline and took his time here, eventually striking the Steeden beautifully to send it curving around the right post and back over the crossbar.

Turbo was now sitting at 18 try assists for the season in only eight and a bit games, two behind Nicho Hynes and three behind Mitch Moses, while Garrick was edging closer to the most points of the season. DCE started a right sweep two tackles into the restart, and Saab made some good metres up the sideline, only coming to ground at the halfway mark, and laying the platform for his captain to take the kick from the same part of the park a play later. Once again, Averillo booted another one from his forty, and the Sea Eagles got another offside.

This time the error came from Hetherington, and yet Canterbury got a big let-off when Olakau’atu lost the footy and Garrick fumbled Meaney’s kick, giving them an unexpected burst of field position for their first incursion into Manly territory. Karl Lawton infringed the ruck a few plays later, conceding a full set on the Sea Eagles’ line, where Olakau’atu made up for the error that started it all with a monster tackle on Hetherington that deflated the set, as Matt Doorey held back Turbo at the tail end of Averillo’s first grubber of the game.

This wasn’t all bad from the Bulldogs – Averillo had booted the kick a metre too far, but they’d still consolidated some field position, and built some tentative momentum. Keeping Manly out on the next set was critical, especially since Lawton followed Olakau’atu by bouncing back big from his error, with strong post-contact metres up the middle. Between these two plays, Olakau’atu and Lawton had effectively put Canterbury’s burst of field position behind them, putting the onus back on the hosts when Meaney took the high ball deep in their left corner.

A long kick on the last from Averillo wasn’t enough, even if it did force Garrick back into his twenty to collect it, since the Sea Eagles now riffed on some of their strongest plays so far to show they could score easily on both sides of the park. Parker channelled his left edge burst for a strong run up the middle, while a cut-out from DCE and catch-and-pass from Harper gave Saab another shot along the right sideline – and this time he delivered, burning along the chalk before popping a short assist back inside to Turbo right when he reached Meaney.

In one concise play, Manly had showed how clinically they could close around a burst of Bulldogs field position, hitting twelve unanswered points when Garrick added the extras. Hetherington can be a good litmus test for Canterbury, since he rides a fine line between inspired and explosive, so when he slammed in for a high shot on Lawton on play one of the restart, the Sea Eagles felt perilously close to their next try – and nearly got it it two tackles later, when Lachlan Croker dummied at the ten, dodged round Jackson and hit Doorey.

For a moment, this looked like a prodigious putdown, as Croker tucked the Steeden under his right arm, braced himself against the full impact of Doorey, and positioned himself as the fulcrum for both Doorey and Meaney to cartwheel over, relying on the momentum of both tackles to slide him over the chalk. However, the replay showed that he hadn’t maintained possession on the way to the ground, giving the Dogs their most critical ingredient for success so far – an error, which they promptly mirrored with a Thompson cough-up on play one.

Yet that rapid change in possession just galvanised Canterbury to capitalise when Sean Keppie knocked on an abrupt, oblique and early DCE grubber to the right wing. Jackson Topine came up with it, the Dogs finally found their flow, and the Sea Eagles conceded three straight penalties – high shot from DCE, crowding from Taupau, hand in the ruck from Paseka – for the fastest accumulation of field position for either team so far. The flipside, though, was that the hosts had to score now or else allow Manly to reclaim all this momentum as their own.

It was agonising, then, when Will Hopoate mistimed a pass to the right edge – and even more agonising when Corey Allan overran the footy, fumbling it along the field as he tried to regather it. Hetherington took out his team’s collective frustration by joining JMK for the next hit on Taupau, and made high contact in the process, giving Manly a full set in the twenty, where Foran dummied and tried to slice through the line, but went to ground before realising he’d run behind his own man, putting pressure on DCE to bring it all together with the kick.

He delivered with exactly the consummate match management that Manly needed to put that last burst of Bulldogs position to bed – a long, low kick that Katoa had to take into touch with Harper on his back. It was the best grubber of the game, setting the stage for a clinical dropout that started with Foran fielding the kick right on halfway, and DCE assist players to break both the twenty and ten, before Tofofoa Sipley got his debut NRL try off a deft Croker assist – a tough twist-and-spin beneath the posts that set up Garrick for an easy kick.

Sipley celebrated his moment by taking the first hit of the restart, and Manly celebrated DCE’s involvement in the whole last sequence by repeating their Saab-Turbo combo up the right, but with more organisation from Daly, who followed the best grubber of the game with the best wide ball – a beautiful arcing harbour bridge effort that put Saab into space up the sideline, where he made thirty metres before feeding it back inside for his halfback to assist Turbo, who hit Meaney at the ten but had more than enough speed to slide over for four.

Canterbury were now in serious trouble at 0-24, and had to start thinking short-term, since it was critical above all that they prevent a try from Manly on the restart, especially since Manu infringed the ruck early in the count. The opposite happened, as the Sea Eagles continued their theme and variations on the right edge, this time with Turbo cutting out DCE as middle man and effectively assisting himself, by starting a right sweep through Olakau’atu and Harper that put Saab into space to feed the footy back to him ten metres out from the line.

This time Katoa didn’t even touch him, while Garrick got another easy kick, bringing Manly to thirty unanswered points with nine minutes to go until half time. Ava Seumanufagai had come on for Hetherington just before Sipley’s try, and did well to hold up Olakua’atu on the first play, while Hoppa followed by pulling back Lawton from a break up the middle. Yet these two defensive gestures just propelled Manly into almost executing their best sequence of the game, starting with a silky and subliminal deception play from Parker up the left edge.

Dummying right, as if to repeat his earlier break down the sideline, Parker popped it back inside, where Turbo grubbered under pressure and DCE responded with an even clutchier play. Leaping over the dead ball line, he tapped the footy back in goal for Lawton to put down, only to drag his left boot over the sideline in the process. Still, it was a close enough play to require extensive Bunker scrutiny – proof that Manly wouldn’t give up on the ball when the got their next chance, which came off yet another squandered Canterbury opportunity.

They had seven tackles up their sleeve, but lost six of them when DCE bounced back from his error by joining Dylan Walker for the tackle that dishevelled Patolo into a fumbled play-the-ball. DCE wasted no time in flicking out a long pass to Garrick on the left, building momentum for Keppie to break the ten a play later. From there, DCE and Walker combined again, for a left sweep that saw Sipley snatch a double from what initially seemed like a successful combined tackle from Seumanufagai, Hoppa and Meaney, and an original call of no try.

The replay confirmed this as the toughest putdown of the game, as Sipley seemed to dispose of the entire Canterbury defence in barging his way through these three very different players. With the kick, Garrick jumped past Nathan Cleary to become the top pointscorer of the season, so it was a small victory that Canterbury managed to prevent any more tries over the last five minutes. At 0-36, a win was a big ask here, but it was critical that they prevent a further landslide of Manly tries to hold their heads high over the next couple of weeks.

Instead Manly, who had enjoyed 91% of possession over the last ten minutes, put down another thirty unanswered points when they returned from the sheds. They didn’t do it right away, though, as Harper got the first catch wrong, and Saab was called offside, gifting Canterbury an early burst of field position. Jackson hit the ten on tackle five, Keppie followed Saab with an offside, Hopoate hit a solid wall of Sea Eagles on the right wing, and the Dogs pivoted back to the right, where Katoa offloaded out of a similarly strong defensive line.

DCE got there before Flanagan, and once again Manly put a brief Bulldogs burst behind them, although the hosts had good speed on the next set – enough to tempt a crusher from Olakau’atu on JMK. Again, Canterbury had good field position, with a full set at the ten, and again the Manly line held up, while Jackson followed Katoa with an even more awkward backward ball – this time a cough-up that the Dogs only just contained, before Turbo collected the grubber on the last and dove back in field before the attackers could force a dropout.

Just as the Bulldogs had received two offsides in quick succession, now Manly received two offsides in even quicker succession, from Jackson and Allan. While Meaney hit back by taking the kick on the full and making one of his best returns of the game, Averillo booted it out on the full, gifting Manly an augmented set, and then further field position when Topine was pinged for an illegal strip. After a slow start to the second stanza, the Sea Eagles had returned to their rapid accumulation of territory in the first forty, and looked set to score again here.

Initially, Turbo looked like he might be the man, with a tough charge beside the left post, but instead he cleared up space for Croker to pop a short ball out to Lawton, who pivoted more than ran into JMK, reaching out an arm to bump the Steeden down as Jackson tried to prevent the inevitable. Between Croker making good on his denied try from the opening half, and Garrick slotting 7/7 kicks, the Sea Eagles seemed to have sunk back into their groove, making it paramount that Canterbury rally to forestall another sequence of back-to-back putdowns.

They did even better, keeping out Manly for most of the rest of the third quarter, even if the start of this slump started with two unforced errors from the Sea Eagles themselves. The first wasn’t a traditional mistake but a moment of misjudgment, and came off the back of two splendid runs up the middle – strong metres from DCE, who busted through a couple of tackles, followed by a break from Olakau’atu, who reached the Canterbury red zone with Turbo barking for it on his inside, but took the tackle instead of flicking it across to his fullback.

Turbo was clearly unsettled by this missed opportunity, flicking a forward pass across to Harper a tackle later. So far, this wasn’t a big dent in the Manly rhythm, since they’d already showed how quickly they could bounce back from a big lull. In fact, they needed periodic lulls to galvanise them into great plays – and they appeared to get another one a set later, when they received a restart just as DCE had booted a shallow grubber out to the right edge, where Saab took it on the full and popped it back inside for Harper to bring it up to the twenty.

Once he’d reached the red zone, he kicked at speed for Turbo, who got his second heartbreak when the bounce eluded him, sitting up instead from Meaney, and forcing Saab to take over the reins with a tough tackle that forced the footy free. The Sea Eagles were crying out for a DCE consolidator, and Daly delivered straight out of the scrum, with the best bullet ball of the night to the left edge, only for Turbo to make his second forward pass to Garrick in the face of a big hit from Allan – right when Manly should have scored an easy comeback try.

The visitors now restorted to building momentum through defence, burrowing deep into the scrum before Foran, Parker and Croker combined to drag Allan a couple of metres back on play one, as if in revenge for the way he’d dishevelled their star fullback. By the time Averillo got to his kick, he was still in the forty and, again, Manly looked primed to hit back on the next set, which Sipley started with a deft offload back to Croker. Yet Paseka tried too hard to replicate that second phase play on the chalk, and fumbled the footy into JMK’s arm.

With almost an hour of football gone, the Sea Eagles had all ten linebreaks and only six missed tackles, but they were starting to lose the upper edge here. For the first time, they needed a Canterbury error to regain their mojo, and they received two – first, a loose carry that tempted the Bulldogs into wasting their challenge; second, a professional foul from Hoppa, who was sent off the park for pulling back Turbo as he set his sights on a Foran grubber from the left. Tom probably wouldn’t have scored here, but could have played a key support role.

The Dogs had conceded 42 points with thirteen players on the park, so this sin bin was the catalyst Manly needed to return to their earlier flow. Paseka made the most leisurely post-contacts of the game to stroll inside the ten, Taupau tired out the defence with a charge at the posts, and DCE finally brought the playmaking that the spine had been craving over the last fifteen minutes, with a perfectly parabolic ball across to Garrick, who pivoted back in from the wing at the last second to leverage a JMK-Allan hit into the clutchiest grounding so far.

Even so, the Sea Eagles didn’t quite return to their back-to-back flow, thanks to a big hit from Doorey that forced a Taupau knock-on midway through the restart. The Dogs also accelerated well now, reaching the ten by tackle three, only for Averillo to boot through his second overlong grubber on the last. By this stage, Canterbury could afford to be flamboyant, since the prime goal was elasticising into next week’s game, so it made sense that Katoa attempted an intercept early in the next set, although he ended up knocking on to set up the next try.

This was the key consolidation set for Manly in the second half, as they condensed their earlier sequence of right edge tries into their most clinical combo so far. DCE got the play rolling with a pass out to Turbo, who made up for his two forward efforts with a spectacular wide ball to Saab – good enough to put young Jason into space with space to burn. All it took was a subliminal dummy at the ten to dispose of Katoa before he slammed in the corner, keeping his legs in the air to defy Meaney’s contact, and regalvanise the Sea Eagles’ rhythm.

Everything almost crystallised now, as Garrick kept it a perfect tally with the boot, and Manly followed up with what should have been a heritage try and the capstone of the game. Turbo completed his comeback from that spotty third act by bookending this entire sequence, creating space up the left for Parker, who cruised down the sideline and popped it back inside for Lawton to offload back to his fullback. Tommy now had room to cross but opted to pop it across to brother Ben, five out, for what should have been a debut try.

It was agonising, then, when Ben was pinged for an obstruction, putting pressure on Manly to come away with another try or two to compensate for this anticlimactic moment. For a brief beat the Bulldogs looked set to build on this sudden deflation, culminating with a strong charge on the line from Biondi-Odo, but Taupau was always going to field this tackle, while the Sea Eagles were even more restless on the restart, when DCE made a trick pass between his legs from dummy half out to Turbo, who made more metres up the right side this time.

DCE booted it well on the last, forcing Canterbury to work it back from their ten – and then their five, when an insatiable Manly pack dragged Manu back on tackle one. The Doggies’ halves now had their darkest day, as both of them tipped the footy onto Saab, who showed Katoa how an intercept was done. Collecting the ball like he was always the intended recipient, he cruised over for the easiest try of the night, before Garrick made it 10/10 with the boot – a stunning stint for a kicker sitting on 74% for the season as a whole.

For the first time since 1994 the Sea Eagles had scored 60 points and for the first time since the 1954 the Bulldogs had conceded 60 points. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Doorey was downed a play later, and taken from the park for an HIA, creating a pretty long pause for the hosts to consider how they might nab that elusive try. They got a chance when Walker booted the next one over the sideline, and did well with their acceleration up the park, culminating with a decent Averillo bomb that Garrick was forced to field right on the Manly line.

Yet that just made the next play all the more memorable, as DCE culminated his organisational brilliance with a piece of pure inspiration. By this stage, at sixty points, the Sea Eagles seemed to have exhausted every tryscoring combination, so it was genuinely startling when Daly reprised his earlier shallow chip to the right edge, but this time on tackle two, inside his own twenty. Saab read the play beautifully, taking the Steeden on the bounce, pivoting off the right boot to defy Katoa, and curving back inside to put it down untouched under the crossbar.

Both Saab and Turbo had now posted hat tricks, while DCE couldn’t have set up a better vehicle to stamp his playmaking signature on the game. From here, Manly could afford to relax, since even with a pair of errors and two dropouts in the last four minutes they were confident of keeping out Canterbury, who’ll need to do some soul-searching to make the most of a Roosters outfit depleted by Origin next week. Meanwhile, Manly are well placed to take on Canberra with the home ground advantage in the first of next week’s four fixtures.  

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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