ROUND 9: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v. Wests Tigers (4 Pines Park, 7/5/22, 36-22)

Manly have come away with their first win in three weeks with a 36-22 victory over the Wests Tigers, although this match had a very different atmosphere from their two forty-point wins over the Balmain-Campbelltown crew in 2021. The stage was set for a Sea Eagles shellacking, with the biggest Brooky crowd since 2014 bringing back memories of the pre-Covid era, and Turbo returning to the park alongside brothers Jake and Ben, who outshone them all by putting down his first two tries in the NRL, both at pivotal points in the match.

Daly Cherry-Evans’ leadership was superb, starting with a crafty kickoff that was timed for Lachlan Croker to scoop up on the grass before the Tigers could touch it. Yet the visitors withstood a massive bout of Manly attack to keep them scoreless over the first twenty, and bounced back from a rapid accumulation of Sea Eagles points on the brink of the break by resurrecting some of the spirit they showed against Parra and Souths in the third quarter, when Luke Garner made a career-high sprint up the left sideline to beat Turbo at the death.

From there, Tyrone Peachey also delivered his best sequence in Wests Tigers colours, coming agonisingly close to a try on the left before popping it down behind the posts a set later. Yet while Oliver Gildart mirrored Garner’s mad dash on the right, and Joffa capped off a massive match in the forward pack with a try at the death, the visitors couldn’t contend with a Manly machine that clicked into gear in the back forty. The Sea Eagles never fully activated Turbo, but DCE was all class, pairing with Tolu Koula for one of the best tries of his recent career.

In a masterpiece of footwork, Daly danced so rapidly from boot to boot that he seemed to give Starford To’a vertigo, making it easy to burst over him and find the line, in a superb sequel to the crafty kickoff that got Manly into the twenty three plays into the game, as they forced the Tigers to dig in for some big early defence. Croker delivered an average kick, but the visitors charged it down, and Manly had a full set in the red zone, and then another, when Jackson Hastings was caught offside, and play was paused to help Ken Maumalo to his feet.

He seemed to have suffered a facial fracture after slamming into Turbo, and had to come from the park, bringing Tyrone Peachey off the bench to left centre, and pushing Oliver Gildart out to the wing, while giving the Tigers some breathing-space before they stuck in to defend the last two tackles of this opening onslaught. It all ended with Turbo weaving towards the crossbar, and shifting it across to DCE, as the black and orange swarmed him to prevent him getting any further, and finally got their first touch of the footy three minutes into the match.

Jacko hoisted it high, Turbo took it on the full, and Croker burst into space out of dummy half a play later, making it all the way to the Tigers’ forty, where he flicked it out to Tolu Koula. The young backliner was held to have knocked it on, but the Sea Eagles sent it upstairs to prove that Luke Brooks had got a hand to it first and sent it backwards, before Koula managed to collect it clean to ensure Manly the rest of the set. Once again, the hosts were back in Tigers territory, where they had to recoup the rhythm of Croker’s mad break.

Instead, Daly lost the ball on the right edge, although it came with a late call of penalty, for Brooks holding down, as Manly got another set inside the twenty, and Turbo dashed across to the left wing, where only a combined Hastings-Foran tackle prevented him crossing the chalk. Josh Aloiai added a short hard run on the other side, and found James Tamou standing in his way, before Koula took a heroic charge from short range, and reached out his arm to almost get the Steeden down amidst a maelstrom of Tigers, coughing up the footy at the last.

There was no challenge this time, so the Tigers had to make the most of their first foray into Manly territory, almost hitting the twenty by the time Jacko bombed for Turbo to take it right on the line. The visitors continued to defend well, this time in their own end, as DCE only got the bomb from his own twenty, allowing David Nofoaluma to reach halfway by play two, before a loose tackle forced them to make a second incursion into Manly territory, off a great combo between Garner and Gildart, who took a sharp run up the right a tackle later.

He was sixty-six metres from his own wing, and the dislocation showed, as three Sea Eagles combined to bump him into touch, before Seyfarth got pinged for being offside on play one. By this stage, Manly had 17 tackles in the opposition twenty, and the Tigers only one, although the visitors weren’t giving up, as Garner made clear with a crisp legs tackle to prevent Turbo making metres up the left. No sooner had he done so, however, than Brooksy conceded his second penalty of the afternoon, with an illegal strip, and Manly opted to tap and go.

The Tigers had two completed sets, and Manly had completed eight of nine, so it felt inevitable when Tommy made good on his left edge energy, skipping away from Seyfarth and feeding a short one out to the wing. It was just as surprising, then, when Garrick was unable to handle it in kind, losing the Steeden over the sideline and then taking the high ball at his own ten after the visitors drove it as far up field as possible, desperate to make the most of this unexpected let-off. Even so, Tamou infringed the ruck a few tackles into the next set.

Again, we were back in Tigers territory, and again Garner dented their momentum with a low shot on Turbo, as DCE tried to bring it all together with a sneaky grubber up the right. Brooks stuck out a boot but failed to deflect it, and Gildart played chicken with Ben Turbo, waiting long enough to tempt the youngest member of the Trbojevic clan to attempt a grounding that was never going to happen. The Tigers now had 6-31 tackles in the opposition half, 20-1 in the twenty, and 28% of possession, so it was a small victory they’d kept Manly to zero.

They got their next shot off the subsequent Manly scrum, which started with a Kepaoa error, but ended with Croker losing it at the scrum base. Brooks popped it out to Gildart, who broke into space up the left, so it was agonising to see DCE pick up his inside ball, and move fast enough to catch Brooks out of marker, his third penalty of the afternoon. Ethan Bullemor did well to make fifteen up the middle with a trio of defenders circling him, DCE’s bomb to the right was well-weighted, and Christian Tuipulotu got both hands to it above Gildart.

Yet all this escalation ended with Gildart applying enough pressure to force the knock-on, as the Tigers capped off an enormous defensive quarter without conceding a single point to the Brooky boys. They completed their fourth set, defended the start of another Manly set, and received a precious burst of field position when Garrick lost the footy forward late in the count, deep in Sea Eagles territory. This turned into the Tigers’ first significant accumulation of territory, as Morgan Harper infringed the ruck, and then got done for crowding.

In a brilliant show of audacity, the Tigers chose to tap and go, shifting it out for Hastings to take a shot on the left, before Kelma Tuilagi followed in his wake, as all three Trbojevics slammed in to hold him up. Things were heating up on the left, as a very late Gildart offload and then third phase from Hastings set up Jake Simpkin for a deft grubber that Bullemor had no chance of bringing back into play with Seyfarth on his back. With all the stats against them, the Tigers had the first dropout, and then an early restart with a Marty Taupau offside.

They applied serious pressure now, shifting right early in the count, where Garner was brought down by a tough legs tackle from Harper, before To’a swerved around a few defenders to land two metres out from the chalk. Hastings shifted it left,  and while Peachey was downed by Tuipulotu, Brooks injected a new calm onto the park with a Lachie Lewis-like pause before his crossfield chip to the right, where Seyfarth tapped it back for Hastings to boot through a second kick that was as extemporised as Brooksy’s was calm and collected.

Croker took it on the full, and the Sea Eagles had survived, although this bout of attack, after so much defence, was a testament to the Tigers’ resilience, and propelled them towards the first crossover of the game on their next set. It came on the right wing, where Hastings set up To’a to pop a superb wide ball out for Kepaoa, whose gymnastic Steeden-first landing was equally spectacular, so it was agonising to see it called back for a Seyfarth obstruction. Yet even a botched try was against the run of play here, so Manly had to hit back fast and hard.

They did just that on their next set, which became a full six in the thirty after a Thomas Mikaele ruck error – and this time the Tigers couldn’t survive the rapid acceleration in position. Koula made a strong charge up the right, and while Peachey brought him down, he played it quick for DCE, who had shifted into dummy half now to take full control of the situation with a short one out to Ben Turbo, who banged into Brooks, twisted a full 360 degrees, and finally got his arm free to plant down his first NRL try, right in front of the Bob Fulton Stand.

Garrick might not have added the extras, but the spectacle and gravity of Ben’s putdown was enough to erase the Tigers’ survival over the last half hour – or might be, if they didn’t work hard to plug the dam before the Sea Eagles unleashed a torrent of points commensurate to the differences in position and possession. Things devolved pretty quickly, as To’a let the high ball roll off his chest and back into DCE’s hands, before Peachey was called offside, and Stefano Utoikamanu was sent to the bin for an error too many.

Like clockwork, the Manly points started to flow, as Garrick made up for his earlier messiness on the right with a superb putdown for the second home try. Turbo set it up, drifting far enough into the line to give him just enough space to pivot off the left boot and channel Ben Turbo’s twist through Brooks for the contact on Garner. He didn’t spin a full circle this time, but Garner’s contact was more secure, making it just as heroic when Garrick tucked the footy under his right arm, and put his body on the line to ensure a clean grounding.

His second conversion might have ricocheted off the left post, keeping it an eight point game, but there was no question the Tigers were at risk now, especially since Mikaele had just been awarded a Category 1 concussion, and Maumalo had already been ruled out following his earlier departure from the park. Half time couldn’t come soon enough, as the Tigers got a rare let-off, four minutes out from the clock, when Tuipulotu didn’t realise it was the last tackle. To his credit, To’a capitalised immediately, breaking through Dylan Walker and into space.

Even better, he didn’t waste time trying to be a hero by going it alone, instead booting it hard and early to force a dropout. Tuilagi lost it on tackle two, but not without getting a fresh set, before the young Manly centre-wing pairing was put under pressure in the same part of the park, where Koula botched an intercept, and Tuipulotu failed to collect it. Add a Bullemor ruck error and it was a big anticlimax when the Tigers coughed it up – and a heart-in-mouth moment for the away crowd when Koula burst into space up the right sideline.

He didn’t make it all the way, but he didn’t have to, since DCE stepped up in the last thirty seconds, drifting across to the right, and sending it out for Ben to provide a Turbo-like assist. Holding and holding until the last minute, he forced Gildart to commit before popping it across the chest of Koula for Tuipulotu to smash down in the corner. Garrick added his first conversion after the siren, Manly were 14-0, and the game was settling into a more predictable groove, forcing the Tiges to revise their strategy as they headed to the sheds.  

They didn’t do much better under the next kickoff, as Joe Ofahengaue got pinged for a high shot, and Manly hit the ten on tackle four. Foran ended with a brilliantly weighted grubber, but Brooks was up to it, dashing back over the ten to keep the Tigers afloat before Utoikamanu returned from the bin. Big Stefano got his men over the forty after a slow start to their next set, and we started to glimpse the first set-for-set rhythm of the night, only for Koula and DCE to boost Manly with the smartest and most spectacular putdown so far.

Koula started by pivoting from boot to boot, turning the Tigers inside out and eventually offloading through a Gildart tackle for DCE to burst into space up the sideline, where he came up with an even more dazzling display with the footwork. Shifting so subliminally from boot to boot that he made To’a dizzy as he came in for the ankle tap, he capped it off with a trademark right boot pivot to break through the Tigers fullback and jog over for an 18-0 lead. Garrick might have missed the conversion, but this was DCE’s leadership at its very best.

The youngest Sea Eagle on the park had assisted the oldest for his 100th game at Brooky, so the crowd went mad as DCE rose from the putdown, making it critical the Tigers secure their first try immediately, just to save face. Cometh the hour cometh the man, as Garner proved his mettle as backrower-turned centre by collecting a short ball from Kepaoa, outpacing Foran, and achieving enough speed to slam through Turbo, who had got on his bike to come across from the middle of the park, but couldn’t save the four points now.

It was a career highlight for the former Manly Under 20, and a rallying-point that was every bit as powerful as DCE’s footwork, partly because the setting sun froze Garner’s run into a splendid mise-en-scene, and partly because of the sheer exhilaration of beating Turbo right on the line. This was enough to galvanise the Tigers into the same courage they showed against Parra and South Sydney, starting with an early shift to the left, where Gildart mirrored Garner’s mad charge along the sideline, before popping it back in to Hastings at the ten.

Jacko wisely opted to take the tackle, before sweeping it out to the right, where Joffa was almost cleaned up by a Manly pack, but more than made up for his opening high tackle, and proved his strength in a game devoid of Wests big boppers, by getting the offload back inside, where Tuilagi managed a between-the-legs pass in the middle of the park that Koula only just missed, leaving barely enough space for Jacko to roll it across the field, and execute a second through-the legs effort out to To’a, who cleaned up the sweep with a wide ball to Peachey.

The ex-Titan now delivered his most heroic run in Tigers colours, slamming into Croker five metres out, and still managing to reach the line with Tuipulotu on his back, before reaching out his hand in a superhuman effort to slam the Steeden down. It was heartbreaking when the try was sent upstairs late, to show that Croker had flicked a hand into the footy for what was deemed a Peachey loose carry, but the visitors weren’t done riding this wave of rugby league resilience, as Brooksy got himself in place for a grubber directly in front.

He struck it well, as Jake Turbo stuck out his boot but didn’t nail the trap-and-scrap, deflecting the footy and bringing brother Tom off his line, all while Peachey slammed in for a second shot at the putdown. There was no issue this time, while Jacko had a much easier kicking angle than Peachey’s last effort, bringing us to an eight point game after Manly looked set to give the visitors an absolute drubbing. Now it was the Sea Eagles who had to hit back fast, and it came from an ex-Tiger, who got his first four points in the Brooky jersey.

In the toughest run of the afternoon, Josh Aloiai received the footy five metres out, crashed into Simpkin and Twal, and slammed them into three more Tigers who surged in as a defensive buttress, all while maintain enough control for a crisp clean grounding. This felt like a full stop on the game, even if we had a full quarter of footy to go, and while the visitors were only twelve behind once Garrick added the kick, they needed to summon a spectacular play to hit back, since it wasn’t enough now to rely on regular team formations.  

Instead, the Sea Eagles reprised the play that had galvanised them in the first forty, as Ben upstaged both Tom and Jake to make it a double on the right wing. He started by running it on the penultimate play, shifting it out for DCE to tuck in under his arm, add more metres and pop it out to Turbo, who was almost downed by a Brooksy jersey tackle, but managed to offload just as he was about to lose it. Croker swung in to scoop it up and shift back to the right, where he restored composure with a well-timed dummy before shooting it out to Ben.

Even if Ben hadn’t scored, this sequence would have been a testament to Manly’s ability to wrest order out of chaos, but the youngest Trbojevic on the park continued that clutch vision by revising his earlier spin, twisting ninety degrees through To’a, clutching the Steeden into his chest, and landing in just the right spot to graze the chalk with the tip. Garrick was back on song with the kicks now, bringing his men to a more characteristic 30-12 lead, while Hastings let the frustration show wih an error and a penalty for backchat.

That said, the Tigers weren’t capitulating as categorically as they have in recent years, as To’a came up with a break on their next attacking set, and Jacko got some joy by combining with Seyfarth to force a Sean Keppie knock-on early in Manly’s next count. With eleven minutes left on the clock, the black and orange had to score on this set to have a shot at a comeback, as Peachey drove it up the left, Zane Musgrove made metres up the middle, and Broosky set up a beautiful sweep back to the left, where Gildart got a run to match Aloiai’s mad charge.

He started on the wing, and then pivoted off the left boot three times to beat a Manly cover defence that seemed destined to hold him up, swivelling away from Tuipulotu, Koula and finally Turbo to pop the Steeden down. It was agonising, then, when Hastings dragged one of his easiest kick angles out to the left, keeping the hosts beyond twelve points with eight on the clock. With a slow peel from Tamou a set later, the Sea Eagles were back on the front foot, as Taupau made twenty-five metres after contact, before rolling it back along the turf.

It was only his sixth offload of the year, special enough to galvanise Manly through a further boost in position when Seyfarth conceded six again. By now, the Sea Eagles were playing like clockwork, as if the defence wasn’t there, as Foran floated a harbour bridge ball over for Garrick to make it a double on the corner, and his men swarmed into congratulate him, aware that they’d now won the game beyond all doubt. Garrick converted his own try a moment later, bringing the Brooky boys to a twenty point lead at 36-16.

Garrick had now become the third faster player reach to 700 career points in the Origin era, after Mick Cronin and Daryl Halligan, while Manly had a good enough win to satisfy their biggest home crowd since 2014. Yet the Tigers hadn’t played poorly enough to warrant a twenty-point deficit either, so it felt appropriate they had the last word on their next set, when Simpkin smashed over beside the left post, didn’t make it, but cleared up enough space for Joffa to cap off a top night in the forward pack by grounding the footy in his wake.

Jacko added the extras to make it a 36-22 final scoreline, and for the second game in a row the Tigers had lost while still managing to draw on some of the barnstorming courage they showcased against Parra and Souths. They’ll be looking to get back in the winner’s circle when they take on a resurgent North Queensland outfit next Sunday afternoon, while the Sea Eagles will be keen to activate Turbo when they rock up to take on Brisbane for a blockbuster second second game at Magic Round.

About Billy Stevenson (724 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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