ROUND 22: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v. Parramatta Eels (Sunshine Coast Stadium, 14/8/21, 56-10)

Manly bounced back from their loss to the Storm with an absolute blinder over Parramatta on Saturday night, compounding their Round 11 win with their first season sweep over the Eels since 2013. Like South Sydney’s barnstorming win over the Titans, this was a record-breaking game, coming down to an astonishing torrent of tries in the final fifteen minutes, as Parra were cut down to an eleven-man squad. Penrith and Melbourne might be higher on the ladder, but neither team in 2021 has rivalled the sheer flow of Manly when they play like this.

That flow is partly Turbo’s flow, since the master fullback is now averaging two try assists a game. The only other NRL player to come close is Andrew Johns – an Immortal – during his very best season for Newcastle, which says something about Tom’s supremacy at this point in the season. On Friday night, a blood-and-grime stained Tedesco seemed to be sending a message to Turbo about his ownership of the top custodian tag, and if that was the case then Trbojevic responded in kind here, adding yet another sublime match to his best ever season.

Over the course of the night, he nabbed a try, an incredible five try assists, six tackle busts and two linebreaks, along with 170 run metres. Yet this was far from a solo effort, since Daly Cherry-Evans delivered one of his best kicking games of the year, booting it ingeniously from every conceivable angle, and with every conceivable strategy in mind, while Reuben Garrick made history by outstripping Matthew Ridge to become the top tryscoring Sea Eagle in a season – and is on the verge of making more as the first NRL player to score 300 in a season. 

On the other side of the Steeden, Junior Paulo wrote an apology to fans this week for the Eels’ performance against the Bunnies. This ended up feeling pre-emptive as much as reflective, since Parra only managed a single linebreak, while Manly only missed nine tackles. Ryan Matterson also became the first Parramatta to be sent off in fifteen years against Manly, after Fuifui Moimoi knocked out Brent Kite in the 49th minute all the way back in 2006. Matto’s target was Brad Parker – a big blow for Manly, since he’s only missed one game in two years.

Daly Cherry-Evans fielded the kickoff and fed it across to Kurt De Luis for the opening carry – a nice vision of veteran and young gun starting in synergy. The Eels bunched in on Marty Taupau on tackle two, and immediately conceded position with dangerous contact for Joey Lussick, who was put on report for coming in hard below the hips. Turbo sent Brad Parker into space down the left wing a few play later, and Kieran Foran ended it all with a perfectly weighted kick that Waqa Blake and DCE competed for in the air on the right side of the park.

Blake managed to secure it on the full, but he was above the field of play, and when he fell DCE and Haumole Olakau’atu bundled him back in goal, giving the Sea Eagles a dropout before the Eels had even got a touch of the footy. They were inside the red zone by tackle two, gradually drifting from left to right with a trio of big runs from Foran, Taupau and Olakau’atu, before DCE grubbered back to the left wing, where Mitch Moses missed it, Michael Oldfield got a bad bounce, and Parker grounded it as Tom Opacic launched onto him for a final effort.

Reuben Garrick was already ten points ahead of Adam Reynolds for most scored in 2021, and he kept it at 240 when he missed the conversion, although he’d get ample opportunity to add to his tally as the night went on. DCE and De Luis linked up again to begin the restart, as if to emphasise how much had happened without Parra touching the ball, ushering in a set that reprised and condensed Manly’s opening carries. Again, we had a left break – this time from Turbo, who took a late Foran offload and shifted it out for Josh Schuster to arrive at the ten.

Dylan Brown managed to clean him up, but DCE mirrored Foran’s crossfield chip by booting it out to the right corner, where Jason Saab took it on the full, and Maika Sivo cleaned him up, only to be pinged for a mid-air tackle. Just when the Eels had glimpsed their first set, the Sea Eagles had another set in their red zone, and scored even more quickly this time, off their first big sweep of the game. Lachlan Croker had got the previous left edge break rolling with a pass to Foran, and he delivered here too, with an extra wide ball that covered half the park.

Foran responded with a short pass to make space for Turbo, who mirrored Foran with a no-look harbour bridge ball that arced over the defence and found Garrick right on the chest. The timing was immaculate, and Garrick was always going to run a hard enough line to defy Moses, who slammed in at a ninety-degree angle for some high contact that was no different to Tom Flegler’s hit on Sitili Tupouniua the night before. It remained a regular try, since the contact hadn’t technically occurred in the act of grounding, though this was still inconsistent.

It didn’t seem to bother Garrick, though, since he slotted through his first sideline conversion a moment later to make it ten unanswered points – and almost ten minutes that Manly had the football. The Eels had to come in big in defence now, and they were better at containing the Sea Eagles than in either of the previous two sets, despite the glimpse of a good run from Saab, who received the ball from DCE, made some metres up the right edge, and bumped Blake into touch. Still, Parra got their first touch, ten in, when DCE booted it over the sideline.

They made decent metres on this set, while Clint Gutherson managed to take Moses’ first bomb, but it all came apart when Ryan Matterson opted for a second kick that tumbled over the dead ball line. The Eels might have completed, but they’d conceded seven tackles, while Matto compounded his error with an illegal strip late in the following set, meaning the Sea Eagles were once again in the twenty with six tackles up their sleeve. This time, though, Sivo came good, pairing with Dylan Brown to drag Morgan Harper into touch from nine metres in.

This had to be a consolidation moment for the Eels, and Moses’ aim from his own forty was true, forcing Garrick right back to the try line to take it. Yet DCE showed he could go bomb for bomb, booting it early, and coming dangerously close to a 40/20, as Gutho launched himself over the line to tap the footy back inside. Even so, Parra now had to work it back from their own line, getting a boost from Blake up the right before Moses bombed from the same position as his previous set, although this time Garrick collected it ten metres further forward.

This was one of the few periods when the game genuinely hung in the balance, since Manly were only ten ahead and the Eels were at least showing some resilience. DCE’s next kick was as good as his 40/20 attempt – the first truly spiralling bomb – and yet Gutho contained it again, while barking out orders to his men after he rose from the ground. Still, the stats were concerning – 19 tackles in Parra’s half compared to 2 in Manly’s, and 434 run metres to 146.

The Eels had to come back with a big play, or capitalise on a Manly error – and they finally got one when Garrick fumbled a Moses bomb in the face of a combined tackle from Lussick, Nathan Brown and Isaiah Papali’i. Parra had the first scrum feed and their first close-range attack – all on the cusp of the second quarter – but between an awkward pass from Lussick, and a huge Harper hit on Gutho, they had to rely on Moses’ chip kick. Matto knocked it back, Opacic caught it, Jake Trbojevic cleaned him up, and brother Turbo scored three tackles later.

The clunkiness of the Parramatta set made this sequence seem even silkier and simpler – just a pair of sublime passes and runs. Pivoting off the right boot in the middle of the park, and swerving away from Blake, DCE mirrored Turbo’s assist for Garrick with an equally beautiful no-look cut-out ball to the other wing, where Saab took it on the chest, stormed up the sideline and popped it back in to his fullback at the twenty. Turbo had acres of space to curve behind the posts, setting up the easiest conversion of the match for Garrick to make it 16-0.

By this stage, one way to measure the Eels was how well they contended with Manly restarts. They had their best defensive set now, as Saab slipped slightly collecting the kickoff, and Blake paired with Dylan Brown to force an Olakau’atu cough-up midway through. The momentum of Turbo’s try might have been enough to propel Manly to go back-to-back, so this was a significant turnaround, especially when Parra got six again on the brink of the Sea Eagles’ ten, so it was agonising when Paulo mistimed his first offload attempt and knocked on into Turbo.

Croker consolidated quickly at the end of the next set, becoming the second Sea Eagle to nearly nab a 40/20, and Gutho was forced to contend with it again too – not by popping it back inside, since the footy sat up ten metres from the line, but by securing it before the oncoming Manly chase could drag him backwards or into touch. Olakau’atu now got his own back by forcing a loose carry from Blake, and the Sea Eagles were in much the same position as Parra a few minutes before – barging at the chalk from close range, off a forced knock-on. 

Two members of the Manly spine had set up tries with harbour bridge balls to the wing, and Foran now became the third, assisting a second Garrick try with a parabola ball to the left edge. It was shorter and more compressed than Turbo and DCE’s passes, but just as effective, since Garrick not only crossed over untouched, but curved around to score behind the posts untouched, setting himself him up for what should have been an easy kick from right in front.

Instead, he shanked it away to keep it a twenty point lead, but the Sea Eagles were still on the brink of making history here. With this try, Garrick joined Turbo and Saab at 19 tries apiece, making them the most prolific tryscoring backline in the competition – all three are in the top six tryscorers of the year – and possibly the most prolific ever if they continue, since no three members of a single backline have ever scored over twenty points in a single season.

Garrick was clearly determined to make it twenty on the next set too, but had to be content with an assist, and the best run of his career, as he set up Dylan Walker to lay down the best back-to-back try of 2021 as well. Turbo and Parker set up the platform, shifting it across for Garrick to take it at his own thirty and accelerate from first to second to third to fourth gear, building up so much speed that the entire Parramatta defence just seemed to wilt in his wake.

First, Garrick jumped over an ankle tap from Opacic, flinging him over the sideline. Then, he dummied, smashed into Gutho, and sent him reeling onto his back. Finally, he ducked, bumped off Moses and lobbed it back inside to Walker, who only had to skip over a Marata Niukore legs tackle to curve around and ground it untouched behind the crossbar. Even though we’d only seen thirty minutes of football, this was the try that won the game – not just because it made Manly 26-0, but because Garrick’s genius and vision was unanswerable.

From this point, then, the Eels’ priorities subliminally shifted – instead of trying to match Manly, they had to keep them out, avoid conceding a too traumatic torrent of points. They got a big scare on the restart, when the Sea Eagles almost made it a trio to rival their two trilogies against the Sharkies. DCE was the man with the plan, eschewing the kick to pass to Turbo, who took a totally unprepared defence by surprise, breaking through the line, and popping it back to Walker, who didn’t manage to pass on to DCE before Moses contained him.

The Eels had to build on this, especially since Schuster was put on report for pressure on Moses, gifting the blue and gold a rare repeat set. Niukore took it within the ten on tackle one, Moses tried to elasticise with a wide ball that Gutho had to collect on the bounce, and the Eels somehow got another repeat set after these lacklustre options when Schuster knocked on Moses’ chip to the right edge. Moses had structured this last passage of play, and fed the scrum too, but he still needed to step up with something much more spectacular now.

Instead, he made the wrong call with a delayed pass to Matto two tackles later, second-guessing himself in the face of an oncoming Foran tackle, and forcing the ex-Tiger into an awkward position that devolved into a loose carry, thanks to some tough jamming defence from Parker. Yet the Eels got one more chance when Sivo showed Foran and Parker that he could deflect trajectories too, slamming hard into Turbo to force his next pass to Harper awry.

Moses lost the ball backwards a moment later, but it came off Manly, while the Eels got one final burst of position when Josh Aloiai was pinged for a shoulder charge right on the line. Lussick tried to slam over out of dummy half on the left, and the Eels pivoted this energy back to the right wing, where Moses now got the pass to Matto right. Drifting into the line, he waited until the last minute to assist his big second-rower’s charge, as Matterson responded with a bullet ball that put Opacic over in the wing for a blue and gold try with a minute to go.

The Eels would score one try in both stanzas, but they’d only convert the second, while the Sea Eagles came back bigger in the last quarter, exceeding the 26 points they’d racked up here with 30 more. For the moment, though, this was a rallying-point for Parramatta, a refusal to entirely capitulate in the face of one of the best spines in the game – and arguably the world’s greatest fullback, despite Teddy’s warrior-like stint against Brisbane the night before.

When they returned to the park, Turbo had a try, an assist, two linebreaks, three linebreak assists and 130 run metres – and didn’t show any signs of slowing down either. Parra got the first burst of field position, though, off a ruck error from Croker, and proceeded to their best last tackle option of the night – a scintillating Moses grubber that slid along the ground without the slightest hint of a bounce before Turbo and Opacic converged on it in goal. Turbo got his right hand to it first, but the dropout became a restart with a Foran escort on Matto.

It was agonising, then, when Nathan Brown put it down on only the second tackle, although the error really came with a poor pass from Lussick out of dummy half. Croker reset this second stanza by booting it on the third, only missing the 40/20 by a few metres, and the Eels felt well and truly neutered on their next set – until they received six again off a Schuster ruck error on play four, right on the halfway line. Manly now had another augmented set to contend with, along with some of the best Parramatta field position of the entire game so far.

Yet Brown now put down the ball for a second time – and this time he couldn’t blame the pass, since Shaun Lane’s aim was true. Two repeat sets ending in two Brown cough-ups was more than the Eels could survive, especially since they conceded two restarts in turn, both in in this next set, off ruck errors from Opacic and Matterson. Schuster made up for his own ruck error with another no-look pass to the wing, and while Garrick didn’t have quite enough space to cross, he was still able to execute a superb chip-and-chase to trap Opacic behind the line.

Now it was Manly’s chance to get a dropout, and they ended with another dropout, thanks to a deft DCE chip that Sivo was forced to slide into touch with Harper on his back. Gutho went even longer with the kick this time, as if in a desperate attempt to thwart the flood of Manly field position that felt on the cusp of crashing over the Parra defence again. For the moment it worked, since Turbo mistimed his next pass to Saab as he made his way upfield, ushering in the sole messy period for Manly, who hadn’t scored in a full quarter of football.

The next set was especially volatile, as Walker took out his frustration with a big hit on Niukore, and Gutho came up with a clutch kick that DCE contacted within the ten, but spilled back in goal, where Blake came in to prevent him returning to the field of play with a high tackle that initially seemed to deny the dropout. Yet the tables turned again when it emerged that Walker had got even more enthusiastic in backplay, following his bullocking run into Niukore with a late tackle on Moses, turning this denied dropout into a repeat set for Parra.

This was such a rapid and unexpected shift in momentum that the Eels had a real chance of a decent comeback here – or at least owning the next period of the game – if they could capitalise on it. Walker was put on report, Moses remained on the field, despite moving pretty gingerly in the immediate aftermath of the tackle, and the Eels got their dropout after all, as the big men laid a good platform off a gorgeous grubber from Moses deep into the right wing.

This was probably Mitch’s one dominant moment, as he sent the Steeden clean through Parker’s legs before rattling into his tackle, timing the bounce perfectly so that Croker had no option but to bump it into touch as Oldfield careened over on top. Makahesi Makatoa took two runs on the first two plays, and Moses reached out his right palm to collect an over-wide ball from Nathan Brown, but Matto had to surrender on the third, while Bryce Cartwright couldn’t match Moses’ dexterity when faced with an even harder Gutho ball on the last play.

Parra survived the next Manly set, but they had their last chance to maintain this momentum when Dylan Brown knocked on out of dummy half early in the following count. The Sea Eagles had been pretty quiet for a while now, despite complete 6/6 since the break against Parra at 5/9, but that just made this final passage even more spectacular, as they put down more than a point per minute, basically bookending the game with two condensed tryscoring sequences.

They didn’t get back into first gear right away, though, despite some good action from the spine out of the subsequent scrum. Foran shifted it left immediately to DCE, who floated a high one out to Garrick, and then made a run up the same side on play two, after Gutho surged in to clean Garrick up. Turbo now drifted across to the right edge, and while he didn’t quite orchestrate a convincing linkup, he did clear up space for the most flamboyant kick of the night – an unexpected banana chip from Walker that utterly defied Saab behind the line.

Saab got both hands to it, but it looked more like he was defending a dropout as he bumped it into touch, although he got some joy on the next Manly set, when he ran a hard line to trip Oldfield on his ten when DCE opted to boot it on the second play. Between Walker’s kick and DCE’s kick, the Sea Eagles finally found their flow again, while the Eels needed a big boot from Moses to get some headway, only for their star halfback to drop it cold before Foran even made contact. Three tackles later, Saab’s comeback was complete with a try on the right edge.

After waiting thirty minutes to put down points, Manly hit back with a clinic here – a simple, elegant sweep to the right. Jake Trbojevic started it, DCE continued it, and Harper ran deep into the line to clear up room for Saab to put it down, while Garrick added another sideline conversion exactly at the sixty-minute mark. From this point on, it felt like Manly simply went back-to-back-to-back, since they barely took a breath from tryscoring until the siren rang out.

DCE’s next kick was as good as the rest, except that this time Sivo took it on the full, before cleaning up a wayward ball from Nathan Brown on the left wing two tackles later. Dylan Brown got his kick away under pressure, but Turbo showed he could also take it on the full, while Matterson took out his team’s frustration with one of the most egregious high shots of the entire season, totally flattening Parker with a shoulder charge to the head. Both men were sent off the park – Matto for his contact, Parker for an HIA, and possibly for his 2021 season.

Moses Suli came on in Parker’s place, and scored off his first touch of the footy. Turbo laid the platform with his most miraculous sequence yet, glimpsing a hole in the line, playing it back to Karl Lawton when the hole closed, and then building on Lawton’s own attempt to cross over by crashing into a big Will Smith tackle further towards the wing. The play seemed contained, and yet Turbo intuited that the right move was to flick the footy back with his right hand, for what would have been a knock-on for any other player, but became an assist here.

Full credit to Suli, too, who read the play perfectly, scooping up the Steeden with both hands and taking the brunt of the escalating Parramatta defence, as more and more men converged on Turbo and Lawton as they directed the play out to the corner. This was the best sequence of the night, and yet the Sea Eagles still had another twenty points in them, with only fifteen minutes left on the clock. Garrick capped it off with his best conversion of the game, hooking the trajectory around the right post, and broke Matthew Ridge’s club record of 257 a season.

In other words, Manly were in a sublime state of flow, showcasing football at its finest as they got stuck into yet another restart. Conversely, the Eels’ were in a state of anti-flow, doubling down on their errors, and compounding mistakes, until it felt as if history was repeating itself with each fresh set. Smith was pinged for a ball strip early in the restart, before Niukore followed Matto off for a professional foul, and Suli nabbed a double with another Eel down.

Suli took the opening run, Olakau’atu cleaned up a bouncing ball from Kapow, and the Sea Eagles settled into their most conservative and confident set, treating the game more like a training run now as Jake set up Turbo to assist one of the easiest tries of Suli’s career – untouched on the left wing – and Garrick booted through another sideline kick like clockwork. By now, he was a full thirty ahead of Reyno with 260 for the season, and light years past the next three contenders – Nathan Cleary at 174, Adam Doueihi at 170, and Nicho Hynes at 132.

Manly still had another seven minutes of 13 on 11, while word came back from the sheds that Parker was on his feet, walking and talking coherently in the Sea Eagles’ dressing room. You sensed his team mates were playing for him, spreading it wide on the first tackle before Suli banged over Moses, broke into space and shifted it back inside for DCE to make it to the Parra forty by tackle one. Tapau followed with another bouncing pass, and Garrick followed Olakau’atu by containing it, before Kapow bounced back with a late blind offload to Lawton.

This was all the momentum Manly needed to score again, as Walker grubbered, Olakau’atu ground it, and the Parra defence receded into the ether, where Moses watched on soberly as Garrick added another conversion to bust the half century for the fifth time this year after their wins over Canterbury and the three Queensland teams. Parra hadn’t conceded fifty since Magic Round 2019, when Ryan Papenhuyzen first made his mark, so they really needed to come away with a consolation try to pump themselves for next week’s clash with the Cows.

Instead, DCE kicked on tackle two of the restart, keen to make the most of the two-man deficit while it remained, and Saab took it on the bounce, smashing into Gutherson before the Sea Eagles started the second half of their set within the Parramatta thirty. Turbo shaped to grubber, Sivo came in with high contact, and Manly were back in the red zone, ending the game with possibly the most beautiful try so far – and the most flamboyant assist from Turbo.

This was actually one of Turbo’s weakest passes, but it had a kind of crazed genius to it, an experimentalism you only see when a team is working at maximum flow and has nothing to lose. Gathering all the Manly wide balls into one enormous pass, he sent it wide and high, and yet seemed to intuit what would happen – that Garrick would reach out his left hand, tap the Steeden in the air, and then retrieve it in his right, a move that was equal part ballet and footy, before slamming over in the corner for a hat trick, and his final superb sideline conversion.

Maybe that’s over-reading Turbo’s intentions a bit – it’s just that the whole sequence had a kind of predordained quality, as if the Sea Eagles simply couldn’t fail now, or as if no play could be outside the purview of Turbo’s overarching vision. It was his fifth try assist, giving him 191 SuperCoach points, meaning anyone who didn’t put him as their captain lost this week. By this point, a final Parra try wasn’t about consolation any more – it was about survival.

Blake nabbed it, two minutes out from the end, three minutes after Niukore returned from the bin, on the back of a Curtis Sironen obstruction. It was a simple try – chasing down the kick in the corner, and grounding it with Saab on his back – and it’ll have to do when the Eels prepare for the Cowboys this week. No game feels guaranteed for them at this late stage in the season, while the Sea Eagles will hopefully play for spectacle as much as competition points when they take on Canberra, since tonight’s historical match was a game for the ages.

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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