A pal of mine has a share in a Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott-trained gelding called Social Element which won four jumps races in a row by a total of 55 lengths and went into August’s Grand National Steeplechase at Ballarat the raging $1.70 favourite.
Alas, the Ballarat Turf Club handicapper was aware of the animal’s ability and placed a weight of 69 kilograms on Social Element’s back.
And across 4.5 kilometres of jumping, running and jumping again, Social Element appeared ever more tired. And eventually the noble steed ran second by eight lengths to the finely-named 7-year-old gelding Inayforhay ($2.70).
Similarly, in a roundabout way, it was revealed on Friday night that Tom Trbojevic is, ultimately, but one man. And that weight of expectation can cruel any thoroughbred.
In a highly-anticipated but ultimately lopsided match-race at Sunshine Coast Stadium, Manly’s great one was bested by mighty Melbourne Storm, and lost by the length of the Ballarat straight.
Manly had gone into the match high on confidence because Trbojevic. He was hot and thus were they, amassing 157 points in four games against Eels, Raiders, Bulldogs and Cows. Trbojevic burned them like Barba, flew like Hayne Plane. He scored seven tries. He didn’t even play against Canberra.
And then came Melbourne Storm. And weight of expectation coupled with weight of possession and territory gifted to Storm saw Manly crash to a dispiriting 40-12 defeat. It was big dog asserting. Contender lording it over pretender to the throne. It was the old Scottish folk song and national anthem “Flower of Scotland” which declared that “Proud Edward’s army” was “sent homewards, to think again.”
It would be for the best if Morgan Harper doesn’t think about it. The match was over after 14 minutes when Storm went up 18-nil after tries to Isaac Lumelume, Kenneath Bromwich and Christian Welch, all of which normally super-reliable centre man Harper had a hand in.
Whether it was dropping the ball (3 times), missing tackles (4) or having the ball stripped (1), Friday night was by far the worst of Harper’s 26 NRL games. Justin Olam ran at him all night. And Harper’s eyes lit up each time. He’s been a beauty for Manly. But he was lucky not to be dragged.
He had some mates.
Manly made nine errors all told and conceded 9 penalties. The completion rate was 72%. You don’t beat Storm with those numbers. You’d barely beat Blacktown Workers.
Another number: of the nine Manly forwards there was only one offload. It wasn’t by Martin Taupau who once could be counted on for half-dozen a game. Yet on a slippery, dewy, Melbourne-like evening, one assumes under instruction, only Taniela Paseka offloaded the pill. You don’t beat Storm like that, either.
More stats? Of Storm’s nine forwards there were five offloads and not a single handling error. Only Welch made an error in the 72nd minute. And he made up for it by having the most runs (16) of his forward pack. He played 36 minutes, the least of all his forward pack outside Brandon Smith who went off in the 18th minute after diagnosing his own HIA.
Ultimately – and it’s positive because it can be fixed – ball control cost Manly the match. Errors! Harper dropped the ball in the 3rd minute. Taupau gave away a penalty in the 9th. So did Haumole Olakau’atu (12th minute). Soon enough Melbourne Storm 18 led Manly blot.
Because that’s what they do. They’re a machine. Only way to clog their works is out-Storm Storm. Hang onto the ball, rush and brutalise them in D, make them pay when you’re up their end. And if you can’t, pin them in goal and do it again. And again. And again! Make the bastards sweat and bleed, for they are too but men.
And for the love of sweet Graham “Wombat” Eadie get Turbo the ball going forward.
Instead there was a reality check for the ages.
Now – Manly can beat Melbourne Storm. It will need to be their near-perfect game, but they can do it. Friday night was poor. But Des Hasler knows his people. He can drag them out of the funk.
Jake Trobjevic made 48 tackles in a typically gutsy, 80-minute effort. His pre-match, on-field speech was riveting. All that frothing and finger pointing. Top stuff.
Dylan Walker replaced Taupau in the 20th minute with immediate impact. His injection of speed around the ruck gave the Sea Eagles punch and territory. His 44 minutes yielded 108m. You’d suggest he warrants longer.
Daly Cherry-Evans was industrious and his tap-on pass to Harper was a thing too beautiful for referee Grant Atkins to believe legal. Cherry-Evans also scored 62 fantasy points, whatever they are, it would appear a decent arbiter of a decent game of footy.
But DCE, like Turbo, is but one man. And many of the other men were stinking up the joint.
That said … Don’t mind them against the Roosters. Win that and it’s Souths. Win that and it’s probably these bastards Melbourne bloody Storm.
Win that and … well, perhaps best not burden anyone with the weight of expectation.
Not that one, anyway.