Two sin bins, five reports, a dearth of penalties – indeed they were only awarded one and then with time up on the clock – and, perhaps, a sense of entitlement given the absence of Kayln Ponga, have all contributed to Manly Sea Eagles’ shock 18-10 loss to Newcastle Knights on Sunday.
After Manly – who’d won six of their last 7 matches – had gone out to a 10-nil lead running into a 35km/h southerly, Newcastle hit the front in the 40th minute and didn’t relinquish the lead, scrapping their way to a deserved victory in front of 17,348 fans at McDonald Jones Stadium.
The game turned in the 32nd minute when Sean Keppie was binned for a high shot on Knights halfback Phoenix Crossland.
Keppie had been good, as he’s been good all year. Offloads, hard charges, fierce, all-action footy. Then he belted Crossland as the Knights halfback kicked, a high and jolting shot, all shoulder and meaty upper arm right across chops. In Magic Round he’d have been gone. This round he may have been gone, too.
As it was he schlepped off for 10 minutes to consider the error of his ways. And the Knights made hay in his stead.
They poured resources right, slick passing preceded a big leap into the corner by Starford To’a. Tex Hoy boomed over the sideline conversion.
On the half-time siren Sauaso Sue took an unexpected Conor Watson face ball and plunged over under the posts. Hoy’s two points made it 12-10 at the break.
Newcastle, it must be said, didn’t look much. Didn’t have to, not really. Because Manly didn’t look much either. Manly looked like they believed their $1.18 favouritism.
The southerly was a factor. The purest torpedo punts would hit a wall. It was a 10-point wind. Jason Saab ran like it, going 80m after a Knights fumble.
Manly, in the main, lacked cut-through. They lacked Josh Schuster.
Before the match Daly Cherry-Evans had told Channel Nine “to be perfectly honest” it didn’t matter who was playing No.6 for Manly, so well drilled is the unit, so cognisant is everyone of roles and requirements, people can just step in.
Bullshit, of course. If he had been perfectly honest (though “frank” is the better term) Cherry-Evans would have admitted Schuster was a big out because Tevita Funa – a winger and centre – is not a five-eighth. And it’s good to have a five-eighth playing five-eighth.
But what do we know? Schuster was playing in the backrow until Kieran Foran‘s injury. Lachlan Croker’s a six playing nine. And Karl Lawton of Murwillumbah is a hooker playing backrow.
And the great Tom Trbojevic? Quiet by his standards. Took all the bombs. Ripped off some try-saving excellence not three minutes in. But there were no line breaks, no tries, no try assists. He did break four tackles.
And he did make Manly’s first try without touching the ball.
See it: Just in Knights territory Croker dished to Cherry-Evans who had big Turbo looming inside. All eyes went to The Threat and took eyes off DCE himself, who ripped off a huge right foot step, popped a pure ball for Lawton who hit the hole and fed Brad Parker for the score.
We can almost forget how good Cherry-Evans is, such was his dud form early. He was probably Manly’s best. He even took a hit-up.
Keppie came back on, was penalised for going a bomb-catcher in the air. It made the penalty count 7-0 to the Knights. With three on report. And one set restart. They had less momentum than the vaccine rollout.
Zac Saddler, in NRL game three, fractured his face and did not return. And Newcastle kept on keeping on. Nobody had told them the odds.
DCE took charge, launched a mighty punt on the wind, 70 metres downtown, his wingers chasing like hares, the halfback tackling the fullback.
Keppie stuffed up a play-the-ball. Had a bludger, Keppie.
Fox Sports told us twice in Manly’s history had they beaten Newcastle after being down at half-time in Newcastle. The last time was in 1994.
Keppie kept launching himself. Martin Taupau put a shot on Daniel Saifiti that put Taupau on his backside, the big dogs laughing about it. Soon enough Taupau was off and Manly were 12 again. They were down by two. There were 20 minutes to go.
But they had the wind. And they had Tommy Turbo.
The great fullback took a bomb and flung a wide, flat ball to Reuben Garrick who took it brilliantly over his head, under pressure, burst through traffic and ran 50m, knocking out Hoy on the way.
Turbo threw another ball to Garrick on the wing. Cherry-Evans took the ball and kicked in field for the posts. And there was Turbo, somehow, again.
Yet Newcastle defused. And ran it out with alacrity. When Saifiti went under the posts at the death the home team had won a famous victory. And Manly had a shock to the system.