ROUND 19: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v. Wests Tigers (Suncorp Stadium, 24/7/21, 44-24)

Manly won 40-6 when they met the Tigers at Bankwest back in Round 7, but they had a smaller (if still significant) margin at Suncorp on Saturday night, as well as a bigger challenge – especially in the first stanza, when the Tigers pulled off a pair of great hitbacks before Daly Cherry-Evans and Tom Trbojevic sealed the deal just before the break. Turbo had a pretty quiet night overall, despite scoring a try in the back forty, putting the onus back on DCE, who broke through the line for the first rhythm-shifter, and nabbed Manly’s final four-pointer too.

On the other side of the Steeden, Adam Doueihi built on his terrific game against the Broncos, where he came up with five try assists and 91 run metres to bring his men to a 32-6 victory in the back forty after being down 18-10 at the first siren. He was instrumental in this game too, starting with the Tigers’ first big surge, when he forced an error from Brad Parker and scored two plays off the subsequent scrum. More and more, he feels like the key ingredient in the Tiges’ halves, and seemed to galvanise Luke Brooks’ best plays over the course of the night.

David Nofoaluma took the kick-off behind the line, and the Sea Eagles summoned a big pack to drag back Stefano Utoikamanu on the second play, while James Tamou and Luciano Leilua couldn’t make much headway, meaning Luke Brooks had to take his first kick in his own end. Turbo got things rolling with a big run and near-break up the right edge, dishevelling the Tigers immediately, as Junior Pauga conceded six again, and Brad Parker mirrored his fullback with a strong dash on the other side of the field, where he brought Manly into Wests territory.

Daly Cherry-Evans chipped it from the twenty, Jason Saab tapped it back, Morgan Harper took it on the bounce, and everything seemed set for an early try – or at least a restart. Instead, Brooks delivered in defence, slamming in to smash Harper over the sideline, before the Tigers got a restart of their own, off a Josh Schuster ruck infringement. Luke Garner brought them into the opposition half, where Marty Taupau came in for a big statement, lifting him right to the horizontal and dumping him to ground, in what turned out to be the last word in this set.

The Tigers still got one more tackle, but the Taupau-Garner hit eclipsed Thomas Mikaele’s knock-on into Jake Trbojevic, as the Sea Eagles coasted into another confident set, breaking the twenty for the first time, and securing the first dropout when Laurie was forced to clean up a DCE grubber in goal with Saab and Harper at his back. Brooksy went shorter with the dropout, only booting it to the thirty, but it just gave Manly a (near) full set in the red zone, as Parker showed Mikaele how to bobble and regather the footy without a knock-on.

He probably would have crossed in the right corner, too, if not for a big Laurie tackle, and yet this turned out to exhaust the Tigers’ defence, which remained pretty passive as the hosts shifted it all the way across field, relaxing more with each pass, until DCE popped out a wide ball for Harper to make his linebreak on the wing after all. Reuben Garrick swung it out past the left post, but this was still a confident start from the Sea Eagles, who rolled through Paseka and Taupau to set up another pair of near-breaks from Turbo and Parker on the restart.

Laurie didn’t exactly exude confidence under the next two high balls, falconing the first one, and losing the second one, forcing Tommy Talau to come in both times to clean things up. Yet the Tigers immediately put that pair of awkward plays behind them with a scintillating pair of runs, the first of which came from Jacob Liddle, who busted through the line at his own thirty, made thirty metres up the middle, pivoted away from Saab and finally came to ground when Garrick surged in for a low tackle, and Lachlan Croker finished him off with an effort on top.

Cometh the hour cometh the man, as Brooks now parlayed that linebreak into an equally deft dash across the field – a one-man sweep that saw him dance over an ankle tap from Paseka and totally elude Haumole Olakau’atu before flicking it out for Garner to assist Ken Maumalo, who put it down one-handed in the corner as Saab came in too late to bump him into touch. Doueihi added a stunning sideline conversion, booting it straight through the posts, and just like that the Tigers were two ahead, following a pretty dominant stint from the Sea Eagles.

This was a small victory for Garner too, who’d drawn on his opening run into the Manly half, so it was disappointing to see him leave the field a few minutes later, with an ankle injury, as Joe Ofahengaue came off the bench earlier than expected. Seeing the assister leave the field shifted the momentum back towards Manly, prompting DCE into a 40/20 attempt that didn’t quite come off, but still forced the Tigers to work it back from their own ten by the time Laurie cleaned it up. They only made thirty metres, but compensated with a strong kick chase.

Nevertheless, Manly made quick position with a restart on the first tackle, off an Utoikamanu offside, followed by two deft offloads, both to DCE. The first came from Taupau, right on the ground, and put his halfback through the line; the second came from Harper, in the red zone, setting up Daly for a gorgeous grubber that looked certain to be a self-assist. Yet Laurie drew on the power of the Tigers’ last chase, bookending it all by going shoulder-to-shoulder with DCE, cleaning up the Steeden at the death and pivoting back infield to avoid the dropout.

That just made it all the impressive when DCE’s boot did the job a set later. Whereas his last kick had been preceded by two dropouts, this bomb gave way to two dropouts. The first came from Saab, who leapt a metre in the air to take it in both hands on the right edge, before popping it out through a Maumalo tackle; the second came from Olakau’atu, who received the footy from his winger, and reached out of a last-ditch Brooks hit to pop it across to Croker, who curved around to score untouched behind the posts, setting up Garrick for an easy two.

This was a compression set – another two dropouts, but in quicker succession this time. It was also a consolidation set, as Saab reached top gear for the first time, and Garrick made it 200 points for the season, a significant lead on Adam Reynolds at 180 and Nathan Cleary at 163. The Tigers needed a big individual effort to reclaim the rhythm, and they got it early in the restart, when Doueihi wrapped his massive frame around Parker from behind, forcing the footy free, and scoring the second try on play two out of the subsequent scrum.

Whereas Manly had capitalised off two pairs of offloads, Doueihi had his own defence-attack double whammy here, while the Tigers showed they only needed one bout of second phase play to cross over. Even better, this was great halves synergy, as Doueihi fed it out to Brooksy, who slid to ground under Foran, and responded with a very late offload – so late, in fact, that his five-eighth had to take it right on the ground, no small feat given his forward-like frame, before recovering his balance and slamming through the last line of Manly defence to score.

Doueihi was always going to convert from this angle – and between the tackle on Parker, the pass to Brooks, the try and the kick, he’d risen to the standard of his win over Brisbane, against a top eight team. To counter that one-man effort, Manly needed to activate Turbo, or Turbo needed to activate himself, so the Tigers’ halves conspired to make sure that couldn’t happen. Brooks booted it over the sideline, to stop Manly doing much with the set, and then Doueihi bumped Turbo into touch on tackle four, before Brooksy’s boot did the job once again.

This time Garrick was the casualty, copping a wobbly bounce that saw him knock-on, as the Tigers settled into their first full set in the opposition half, and Manly reached the nadir of their opening forty. Laurie glimpsed an enormous hole on play five, and twisted through Turbo, who held him up just shy of the line, followed by DCE, who got in below to prevent him reaching out a hand to plant the footy down. Plugging the gap here was the first step in Manly’s resurgence – and Turbo’s first tentative re-emergence from a quiet ten minutes.

Still, the Tigers maintained position for now, and got their first full set in Manly’s red zone, after Josh Aloiai was pinged for an especially brutal low shot on Alex Seyfarth, who joined Garner on the bench. Once again, Brooksy’s kick paid dividends, as Schuster ricocheted and knocked on in his attempt to recover it, before Harper conceded six again a moment later, and the Tigers settled into their most sustained period of position, and the longest stint on the line, as the game reached crisis point, seven minutes out from the halftime siren. 

If the Tigers scored here, they would have decisively taken control of the game; if they didn’t, then Manly would have survived four straight sets on their line, and absorbed all the Tigers’ momentum as their own. In a sense, both outcomes happened, ratcheting up the tension even more, as Talau made an error only for Harper to follow, just as quickly, with the first Manly knock-on of the night. The Tigers had a full set in the Manly ten, so it was a killer when Talau made a second error, on play one off the scrum, and Utoikamanu conceded six again.

After five minutes of straight Tigers attack, Manly only needed three plays to score their comeback try. Since Turbo continued to be pretty quiet, DCE stepped up again as key strategist, starting a left sweep in the middle of the park, and reading the next sequence before it happened, as he got in space as support runner to receive the footy again when Schuster pivoted off the left boot and flicked a no-looker to shift the play back inside to his halfback. It was as if the entire sequence was a projection of DCE’s consummate organisation.

From there, all he had to do was leap over a last-ditch Mikaele ankle tap and cruise beneath the crossbar, setting up Garrick for an easy conversion as the Sea Eagles finally reached full flow, three minutes out from the sheds. To cement their control here, they needed to score another try, and involve Turbo in some way – and both happened on the restart, when Tommy woke up, and gave DCE a break at playmaking, with a superb break up the left side that finally made good on his surge up the right, on the Sea Eagles’ very first set of the night.

Seeing Turbo come alive set the entire team alight, as they swept all the way to the right, where Harper tucked the footy under his arm, put his head down low, and just burrowed his way through Brooks, Talau and Joffa to slam it down. If DCE had seemed to preordain the last try, then Harper appeared to simply will the Tigers’ defence out of existence here. Garrick swung the Steeden out to the left of the post, but the Sea Eagles were finally playing like themselves, setting the visitors a serious challenge when they returned for the back forty.

Doueihi rose to the occasion on the first set, coming in hard on Schuster to force the footy free, and continued to enterprise with a wide ball out Nofoaluma when the Tiges got a restart off an Aloiai ruck infringement a few tackles after the turnover. Brooks followed his lead on the other side of the park, chipping it into the corner, and almost getting the best of Turbo right on the dead ball line, where he leaned over the chalk and swung the Steeden back inside, only for the replay to show he’d got a boot to it too, as Manly narrowly missed a dropout.

In the space of these few plays, the Tigers had quelled some of the Sea Eagles’ flow, so they had to do more than just recover on the next set, especially since they were inside the twenty by tackle four. Jake got the kick back, and Harper booted through a second grubber, but sent it too deep, granting the visitors a seven tackle set to recover their field position. Manly needed a major sequence now, and they got their critical consolidation play of the entire game, as another individual effort from DCE paved the way for a Turbo try.

The sequence started with one of the best intercepts of the season, as Daly reached out his full wingspan to collect a Tamou offload on the tips of his fingers, before burning his way back to the Tigers’ ten, where only Doueihi, who was having a career-best game, was there to reprise his over-the-shoulder tackle on Parker and bring him to ground. Still, the Sea Eagles got six again on the very next play, with Brooks offside, and swung back out to the left wing, where Dylan Walker drove it hard into the line, laying the platform for Tommy to cross over.

Last year Laurie’s last-ditch ankle tap might have done the job, but Turbo has packed on the pounds since then, and was always going to dance over here and curve around behind the uprights for an easy Garrick kick. For the first time, the Tigers seemed genuinely flummoxed by a Manly try, as a Maumalo error gave way to a Joffa offside, while Turbo reprised his same drive on the left, but from further out, giving Nofa just enough time to bring him down.

Still, the Sea Eagles continued to consolidate, both in terms of the dynamic of this set and its relation to the last tryscoring set. On the penultimate play, Olakau’atu smashed towards the chalk on the right, and while Pauga made a heroic effort to hold him up, Walker cruised through in his place, on the last – a sobering message to the Tigers that Manly would keep on pushing until they got through, and a perfect sequel to Walker’s assist for Turbo a minute before. Garrick booted through the extras, and the Sea Eagles skyrocketed to 32-12.

This was a pretty dispiriting scoreline for a Tigers outfit that had managed to stay neck-and-neck in the first stanza, so Brooks got them rolling again with a very short kickoff that Saab managed to collect in the air, but not without Harper making an escort. Yet that just made it all the more frustrating when Simpkins put it down a moment later – and all the more surprising when Olakau’atu bobbled while shaping for an offload out the back, since this was precisely the moment when you’d expect the Sea Eagles to congeal themselves once again.

They felt the same way, sending it upstairs for an unsuccessful challenge, as the Tigers ground in to work their way back from a pretty stark contrast in run metres – 271 to 78 in the second half alone. Yet only Doueihi brought the vision here – first with a repeat of his wide ball out to Nofa on the wing, and then with an equally powerful pivot, as he shifted it back inside for Tamou to break through the line and almost make it all the way to the left post. Both of these plays fuelled Moses Mbye for a long kick on the last that Garrick had to boot into touch.

Simpkins accelerated the dropout with a nice offload to Joffa on play one, and Doueihi made it a hat trick of wide balls to Nofa on the wing. By this stage, they didn’t feel like genuine assist attempts so much as strategies for elasticising and pivoting back to the middle of the park. Last time, Doueihi nearly sent Tamou across, and this time Liddle capitalised on that deflected momentum, making good on his earlier linebreak with a superb short-range charge out of dummy half – bumping off Croker, bumping off Walker, and scoring beneath the crossbar.

Doueihi barely looked up as he added the extras, before play paused on tackle one of the restart, when Walker found himself sandwiched between Jake and Paseka, who bumped his head into Utoikamanu’s shouder with such force that he was always going to fail the HIA. The Tigers made up for lost time with a couple big runs, including a near-break from Broosky and metres after contact from Simpkins, setting up Luke for a kick inside the Manly thirty – a tough enough ball that the Sea Eagles discretely pulled back to let Turbo clean it up on the full.

Between Walker leaving the park, and the Tigers bouncing back so quickly, the Sea Eagles seemed a little muted on the cusp of the final quarter, and chose to play the next set conservative, right down to a long, low kick from Foran for field position, before elasticising again next time they had ball in hand. Yet even with a galvanising run across the defence from Turbo on play one, a compressed version of the same play from DCE on the right side of the field, and great post-contacts from Olakau’atu, they couldn’t quite bring it together here.

Put that down to Nofoaluma, who made up for a lacklustre defensive line during the first five tackles by coming in hard and fast on the last to deflect a Turbo pass out to Garrick, who had nothing but open space to the chalk, but couldn’t rein in the overlong ball as it sailed over the sideline. We now reached a tipping-point in the game, sixteen minutes out, as both sides struggled to reclaim the momentum – and possibly the critical play of this back quarter, since the Tigers had proved how unexpectedly and suddenly they could come back in the first half.

Just as Manly had silenced the defensive line on the last set, so Laurie silenced the Manly defence now, with a 360-degree spin that disoriented the maroon and white, leaving space for an offload out to Talau, who flicked it on to Nofoaluma in turn. Yet this just set up the Tigers for their own aborted try on the wing to mirror Garrick’s disappointment, since Talau’s pass was forward. Worse, he had time for a flat one if he hadn’t second-guessed himself, and double-pumped – and Nofualuma knew it, responding to the gaffe with unmitigated agony.

Even worse, Doeuihi had nailed the wide ball to Nofa three times on this wing, which meant that Talau’s error seemed to erode some of the ex-Rabbitoh’s vision – or remind us that the halves couldn’t do everything on their own. An inconclusive Tigers’ challenge later, Manly capped off this precarious period by both scoring their next try and showing the visitors how a proper right sweep was done. They didn’t even need to reach the wing, as Harper hit a DCE ball at speed, curved behind the posts, and got it down for his first career hat trick.

That trilogy of tries was a conversation-stopper – a blunt message that the Tigers could only score consolation points now, as Garrick added the extras to make it a twenty-point lead at 38-18. The black and orange would get one more, while the boys from Brookvale would also score again, keeping their twenty-point lead to the last. It came on the restart, off a Brooks penalty for holding down, and was their simplest of the night – a mere victory lap for DCE, who leaned into a Joffa tackle, and used it as a cantilever to plant the football down.

This was weak defence from the ex-Bronco, who helped DCE relax into the try rather than doing anything compelling to prevent it – and with Garrick booting through another two, the Sea Eagles reached their final scoreline of 44. You could say it was a small victory that the Tigers managed to keep them out over the last ten minutes, since the sheer ease of Daly’s putdown, and the fact that it came on the restart, suggested they might just as easily break the century here, especially with Saab making his most soaring leap to collect the kickoff.

Yet the Tigers got a let-off when Sean Keppie knocked on for his first touch of the night, while Joffa did better in attack than defence, tempting an illegal from Croker and then parlaying it into a quick tap for Brooks to break the twenty. The rest of the set was pretty workmanlike, but it worked, as Laurie ended with a double pump for Maumalo to cross in the left corner. Doueihi’s conversion was an apt ending for a game when he’d played such a dramatic role, while Manly are in good shape to take on the Sharks when they meet at the end of Round 20.

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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