ROUND 3: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (4 Pines Park, 27/3/22, 13-12)

Manly got their first win of the season, and Turbo his first try, when they hosted for the first time this year on Sunday night. Even then, it came down to a field goal finish from Daly Cherry-Evans, as the Sea Eagles were run ragged by a Bulldogs outfit desperate to avoid another close loss following last week’s heartbreaker against Brisbane. With 237 run metres to Paul Vaughan’s 144, this was Turbo’s first really decisive game as well – a great way to celebrate a new turf at Brooky, which held strong under torrential conditions on the Northern Beaches.

Add to that the opening of the new Bob Fulton Grandstand (and the rechristening of the Menzies-Lyons Grandstand) and this should have been a milestone Manly match, so the crowd was pretty subdued when the Dogs put down the first two tries in the opening twenty-five minutes. Yet Turbo’s first try, and then a Garrick four-pointer just before the break, got the Brookvale faithful a grandstand finish after all, after a second stanza that was marked by only a Canterbury penalty goal before DCE finally booted through the one point that won it.

Turbo had the first touch of the evening, taking it right on the line, and Matt Burton had the footy two plays later, when brother Jake became the first casualty of the slippery conditions. Taking advantage of the fast start, Brandon Wakeham grubbered on the fourth, on the left side of the park, where Haumole Olakau’atu dove on the footy, and lost it just as quickly. Seizing the moment, Burton slammed it down, and the Dogs had the first try less than two minutes into the match. His kick his the post, but even so the rain felt like Canterbury confetti.  

Manly did better on their next defensive set, keeping Burton to his own thirty for the kick, while they got out of their own end with a second effort from Josh Ado-Carr. They were inside the forty on play one, as Aaron Schoupp shut down a potential Turbo offload, but not without infringing the ruck to gift the opposition a full set in the red zone. Three tackles later, Wakeham built on another Sea Eagles error, this time a cough-up from Reuben Garrick, burning his way up the left sideline and kicking at speed as Manly descended into chaos.

DCE looked set to take it on the full, and actually got both hands to the footy, only to lose it into some massive contact from Schoupp, who’d now contained the two biggest playmakers on the Manly side. The Steeden spilled forward, Olakau’atu slid to ground to clean it up, and Jason Saab surged up the right to make up for this break as quickly as possible. To the Sea Eagles’ credit, Turbo was right on the chalk a set later, where Braidon Burns did well to stop him face on, at speed, at close-range, for what initially looked like a guaranteed four points.

Burton attempted a 40/20 at the end of the next set, but didn’t quite get the angle, before finding himself offside within the ten to grant Manly another burst in field position – that is, until DCE lost the footy ten seconds later, and JMK did the same twenty seconds after that, as an already sodden Steeden started to get the better of both teams. The Sea Eagles started where they left off their last set, fuelled by a Harper-Taupau offload, and hit the ten four tackles in, where Kieran Foran made a charge at the line, and Taupau improvised with a chip.

It was the worst kick of the game, limp enough for Jack Hetherington to knock it backwards and still secure it. In the same instant, Foran became the next player to find himself offside within the ten, and Burton followed Wakeham with another early kick on the left – this time on the third tackle, when he booted through a grubber with a bounce that was ultimately a little too frenetic. It defied Harper (who like DCE got it in both hands, but found it ricocheting off the Foxx’s head) and was also moving too fast for Turbo to ground convincingly after him.

Unfortunately, none of the Bulldogs chasers could get to it either, although Turbo’s last touch made this the first dropout of the afternoon. It became a full set in the twenty when Garrick was pinged for crowding early in the count, as Matt Dufty became the next Dog to kick early. Wakeham had toed it on the fourth, Burton on the third, and now the ex-Dragon chose tackle one to drive it deep into the right corner, where Burns dove to ground, collected it on the chest and slammed it down while Garrick was still a full five metres behind in the kick chase.

Again, Burton missed the kick, although he made up for it with an enormous boot at the end of the restart, forcing Tommy to slide to his knees and careen along the Brookvale surface to take it. That single play was enough to galvanise Manly into their first left edge break, and then their first try, as Foran put Parker into space, and Garrick took the footy in turn, dancing over a low tackle from Burns as last line of defence, and feeding it back inside for Turbo to bookend the set by crossing untouched on the left. Just as good, Garrick managed the kick.

Despite this early Canterbury acceleration, then, the Sea Eagles were only two points behind, while Turbo had nabbed his first try of the season, a critical consolidator for a Brookvale outfit that were 0/2. If he had his foot on the sideline under the next kick the refs didn’t see it, so Manly were free to complete their restart, targeting the right edge this time around, where Harper made a stab at the line, before Foran shifted it out to Harper with a long ball from the middle, albeit not without fumbling the play-the-ball to grant Canterbury a midfield scrum.

The Eagles contained Josh Jackson pretty well on play one, but that just gave Paul Vaughan more motivation, so by the time Burton took the kick he had space for a decent bomb to the left edge. Naden put enough pressure on Saab for him to lose it backwards, where Corey Waddell became the next player to get hands on the Steeden to no avail, richocheting it forward as he slid along the soaking turf, as a spectacular try went begging. The Dogs still had possession, but couldn’t capitalise on the close-range restart, due to two big Manly efforts.

The first came on the left edge, where Harper stormed in to hold up Ado-Carr, and deny him his first Canterbury try, at the end of a rapid sweep to the wing; the second came back infield, where Lachlan Croker wrapped himself around a low hard Burton kick without knocking it on. A suite of interchanges followed – Taniela Paseka for Sean Keppie, Luke Thompson for Tevita Pangai Junior, Max King for Vaughan – as Burton got done for a swinging arm on Turbo, and Wakeham left the park for an HIA after a clash with Parker, bringing on Bailey Biondi-Odo.

Four tackles later, Jake Trbojevic made the biggest close-range charge so far, carrying five Bulldogs under the posts off a short ball from Croker. Still, the visitors prevailed, and the set came down to a DCE chip to the right, where Saab collected and then spilled it forward. Caught out by that sudden shift, Andrew Davey was offside in the ten on tackle one, and so the Dogs started halfway up the park, but never hit the red zone, due to a very late, overtly forward Dufty-Schoupp offload. Now Manly had a midfield scrum, with ten left to the break.

They got six again to make up for that Davey error, but wasted their challenge to dispute a DCE knock-on during tackle three. The replay showed that Daly lost the footy due to the ricochet of both defenders pulling back from the tackle, rather than any direct intervention, while Dufty showed him how it was done by maintaining possession in the face of a massive combined hit from Paseka and Jake Trbojevic midway through the next count. Even then, Manly looked pretty secure in defence here, until Harper made their most egregious error.

Despite having an age to pull back from (or shape to catch) Burton’s towering bomb, he allowed it to bounce off his thigh and straight back into JMK’s hands. Manly declined rapidly now, as Jake infringed the ruck, Turbo got pinged for not being square at marker, and Burton slotted through his first kick of the evening for the penalty goal. Luckily, Turbo was safe under Burton’s next bomb, and once again a confident take from their fullback propelled Manly towards another try, although it would take a good five minutes for them to score this one.

Their next burst in position came a play later, when Ado-Carr hit Garrick high, while they glimpsed four points at the end of this same set, when Croker chased down his own grubber, but couldn’t quite reach the ball before Burns cleaned it up. Croker may have allowed Biondi-Odo to strip the Steeden from him early in the next Manly set, but there was a slight air of consolidation about the Sea Eagles now, an edge of confidence that allowed them to withstand Canterbury’s last short-range attack on their line before they headed to the sheds.

Olakau’atu took the kick on the chalk, Burton copped his second offside penalty, and Manly had one last set to prove their mettle. Turbo got them rolling with a restless run to the right edge, and Foran made up for his earlier error in the play-the-ball by reprising the same wide ball to the left, but this time to Garrick, and this time as an assist. The young winger took it fifteen metres out, but with Burns caught in field he had more than enough space to reach the corner untouched, where he leaped over a last-ditch Dufty tackle to land Steeden-first.

Even better, he added the extras, putting Manly ahead for the first time all night, foreshadowing the one-point differential of the dying minutes of the match. The Dogs had the first set back, and were kept mainly to their thirty by a pummelling Sea Eagles defence. Neither team would score another try this evening, so this set pre-empted the grind to come. That made it especially dispiriting for the Canterbury faithful to see Hetherington on the bench with a dislocated shoulder, having stayed on the park for fifteen minutes post-injury.

The Bulldogs made better headway on their next set, hitting the ten midway through, and experimenting with a Dufty charge on the right and an Ado-Carr dash on the left, but not ultimately reaching the end of the count, due to a forward tap from Naden, who was disoriented when the pass for Burton ricocheted off Harper. Paseka got Manly rolling with an offload to Jake, who took a second carry a tackle later, and got his men a restart by tempting a ruck error from Jackson, before flicking it out for Turbo to drive ten metres into the defence.

This spurred an even bigger consolidation on the left side of the park, where DCE broke through the line, set his eyes on the chalk, and became the next casualty of the slippery surface. Despite falling, he rose quickly enough for a decent play-the-ball to Foran, while the Sea Eagles got a fresh set in the Canterbury ten when Schoupp hit Turbo without the footy. Olakau’atu almost plunged over early in the count, and with a ruck error from Waddell Manly had their best acceleration of position so far, even if they decelerated in the later tackles.

Realising he had to save the day after some prevaricating around the middle of the park, DCE chipped to the right wing – high enough to sail over Ado-Carr, who was caught infield, but with a bounce that proved too dangerous for Saab, who scrambled in vain as the Steeden tumbled past him into touch. Jake Trbojevic took out his frustration with a leg pull a tackle later, and just like that the Dogs had absorbed all the rhythm that Manly had built, right down to the thwarted kick option, as Naden booted it way past the Foxx and straight into touch.

Taupau took his next run, midway through the set, like the whole game depended upon it, and Foran held his ground to withstand a combined effort from Wakeham and Schoupp to pick him up and drag him into touch. Again, DCE had to steady the ship with the kick, although this time he could only boot it away from the defence, landing it right in front of Dufty, who laid the platform for the Foxx to get on the outside of Saab for some quick metres up the left. Vaughan was a metre out on play five, as the Dogs swept left, where Dufty opted to run it.

Unfortunately, none of his team mates were in position to support him, meaning his late offload could only find Parker on the legs, and tumble back towards the chalk to get Manly out of their own end. The game was getting frantic now, as Burton infringed the ruck, and DCE, Croker and Karl Lawton all searched for options up the middle third, dancing from boot to boot as if trying to contain all the glitchy energy of this close contest. The Dogs survived, the Sea Eagles survived, and both sides needed a big individual play to break the night open.

With nothing doing up the middle, Manly targeted the left edge on their next set, where Pangai cleaned up the kick in a sea of maroon jerseys. Canterbury headed left too, but Ado-Carr realised earlier on that he had to ferry it back inside, where he was downed with what initially looked like a crusher from Dylan Walker, but didn’t get any joy on the penalty front, as the rain intensified over the Northern Beaches and the game sunk into a full-on slog. Lawton might have made twenty on the next set, but again the Sea Eagles didn’t finish well.

That’s not to say the Dogs did much either, since the rain was heavy enough to impede visibility by the time Pangai lost the footy midway through their next carry. Manly now got the next best thing to an individual effort – a completely unnecessary penalty from Schoupp, who escorted Garrick even though it looked unlikely the winger would ever reach the line. With a full set in the ten, and six again off a Waddell ruck error, they had momentum enough to withstand Tommy being winded by a Burns hit, and Dufty cleaning up a deft DCE grubber.

In the most rousing defensive effort of the night, a massive Manly pack dragged Naden back over the line, putting the force in forced dropout, and tempting high contact from Pangai on tackle three, making this the biggest accumulation of field position so far. Buoyed up by the courage of that pack defence, they opted to tap and go, despite only having a two-point lead, reaching the ten off a late Taupau offload, and almost scoring through an explosive Foran run out of dummy half on the left. Again, Dufty took DCE’s grubber, but a metre behind the line.

With so much position, the Sea Eagles had to score now, or else concede the momentum back to Canterbury. As if overwhelmed by the pressure of leadership at this pivotal point, DCE spent so much time experimenting and scheming on the right edge that Croker ended up taking the chip to the left, where Parker leaped up to put both hands on the footy, only to lose it through Schoupp. The Dogs were back in the red zone by the last play, where Burton followed Dufty by running the footy, but found Olakau’atu in his way, and giving no quarter.

Nevertheless, the Dogs were back on the attack a moment later, thanks to a messy play-the-ball from Lawton, and got their own chance to camp out on the opposition line when Olakau’atu knocked on Wakeham’s grubber. Two points behind, with only ten minutes to go, they were less inclined to tap and go than Manly, so when Turbo infringed the subsequent scrum, Burton booted through the last two blue and white points to make it 12-12. After such a tight night, it felt right that we were all tied up for the last chapter of this hard-fought match.

Manly didn’t apply any real pressure on the next set, and yet this turned out to be a liability for Burton, who felt secure enough to change his bomb to a 40/20 attempt as he was swinging his boot, sending it over the sideline as a result. DCE made his first field goal attempt late in this set, and got his men six again when Thompson charged it down, while Dufty was on the ground with a cramp, and Harper bookended the match with a second cough-up. Both teams were starting to come undone, so it was down to which could deliver one final consolidator.

The chaos continued on the next set, when Burns lobbed the footy back to Foran while tumbling into touch, before Olaka’atu lost a shoe a few plays later. Yet this moment of maximum volatility steeled DCE into the field goal that won the game – a short sharp chip from the left edge that cleared the crossbar by a metre, despite looking sloppy off the boot. Burton tried to hit back with a two-pointer, but missed, bringing Manly their first win of the 2022 season, a critical motivator as they prepare to take on the Raiders at Mudgee next week.

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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