Newcastle Knights welcome Bradman Best back into their starting XIII for the round 12 fixture against Manly Sea Eagles at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday, yet remain friendless with punters at 4-1 in a two-horse race.

Because Kayln Ponga is out. And Tom Trbojevic is in.

And that, despite Josh Schuster‘s late omission with a calf injury, effectively, is that.

Ponga is important to Newcastle. But he’s not Tommy Turbo important.

For such is the all-running, torpedo-passing, super-leaping superstardom of the rangy 23-year-old from Mona Vale Raiders, Manly has, simply, been winning instead of losing.

Welcome back, Manly. We mean Tom. We mean Manly. The Sea Eagles have been borderline irrepressible since Tom Trobjevic’s return in round six. Pic: NRL.com.

The Sea Eagles began the year with a 42-point loss to Roosters followed by further shellackings by Rabbitohs (by 14), Dragons (26) and Panthers (40).

Daly Cherry-Evans got them home by a point against Warriors on the Central Coast before Tommy returned for a round six match in Mudgee. And there, the Gold Coast Titans – who’d been going okay – were flogged 36-nil.

Because Tommy.

There followed routs of Wests Tigers (40-6), Brisbane Broncos (50-6) and, perhaps most telling and satisfying of all, Parramatta Eels (28-6).

The only blip since the Turbo’s return from a hamstring strain caused by a trip in the toilet – and absolutely not by a half-pissed sprint down Manly Corso – was a 24-16 loss to Penrith Panthers. But Penrith Panthers won 17 straight games up to the 2020 grand final and they’ve won 11 straight since. Penrith Panthers are the bomb.

Manly are not the bomb but they are more than a Po-Ha, which is what we Canberra kids called a particular sort of cracker that older types might have called a Penny Bunger and which looked like a miniature stick of dynamite.

I REMEMBER WHEN We used to have cracker night! - Write of the Middle
“Po-Has”: Actually quite dangerous. Pic: China National Native Produce & Animal By-Products Import & Export Corporation

So there you go.

And so! Were you to go and bet upon Newcastle Knights to win at home the corporate bookmakers would turn each of your $1 digital bills into the sweet promise of five times that amount.

And you might look at that “money” in your phone app and dare to dream it was yours, that it is in your account already.

And that would be quite nice for a while until reality dawns and Manly tear the Knights bot-bots asunder.

At least that’s what one assumes will happen. Because those odds are reflective of each teams’ fortunes.

Last five starts Newcastle has lost to Cowboys (by 16 points), Wests Tigers (18), Roosters (34) and Storm (18). They did beat Canberra Raiders by 8 points in Wagga Wagga but then the Junee Diesels could do that and they play reserve grade in Group 9.

Manly, meanwhile, like that kid with the drone in the super ad says, is looking ripper.

With Trbojevic tearing it up at the back and in those back-peddling middle zones fractured by six-again, bounding about like a giant five-eighth, his brother Jake is a new human being in No.13.

Without his little brother at fullback, Jake was a tackle hound, a brainless automaton, a work-horse, mute, inanimate, head down, bum up. He was Kevin Hardwick. And nobody wants that.

NRL 2020: Kevin Hardwick takes the title for best mullet of all time - NRL
Kevin Hardwick of Balmain Tigers. Respect. But not Jake Trbojevic. Pic: NRL.com

Now our Jake’s a free agent again. Free footy. Free love. Singing in the rain.

And now his another little brother Ben is into the team, the Mortimers redux.

And by round 14 when a host of players are due back from injury – including Haumole “Shmole” Olakau’atu (hand), Dylan Walker (hamstring), Kieran Foran (hand) and Cade Cust (hamstring) – then touch wood and placate the gods of Origin – we could see these Manly Sea Eagles go seriously deep into season 2021.

And we didn’t think that five rounds in, oh no sirree Bob Batty.

Singing? Curtis Sironen is back. Moses Suli‘s on the bench. The great Jorge Taufua is named 18th man, lurking in wait like he does for errant centres who’d enter his house.

Most exciting of all No.6 jumper being worn – and surely worn again – by the new Kid Fantastic: Josh Schuster.

How about him? Ripping off no-look passes to set Tommy T. free. There’s a whole other story, perhaps in esteemed journals of science, dedicated to the split second of time gifted to outside backs by a ball-player’s subtle work inside.

Schuster … his no-look action is like Benji Marshall’s. No higher chicken wrap. Benji used to call it “telling lies with your eyes”. Schuster does it with all his body.

Watch him:

Schuster will aim his considerable, Wally Lewis-like girth at the line and fake to run through it. Members of said line must commit to tackle him because it does indeed look like he means to run through them. Then: zoink! The Steeden’s out to Tommy or Jake or Brad Parker and boom, men outside have that scintilla of time to do their thing.

Tom Trbojevic doesn’t need a scintilla of time. He already has time. He makes time.

He is time.

He is not time. Only time is time.

And yet … for Manly Sea Eagles at 4:05pm on Sunday in Newcastle – the country of the Awabakal people since time immemorial – it is time.

Time to smoke these Ponga-free Newcastle Knights.

Time for Manly by 20.