The Green Machine wore baby blue, the Brookie Hill tribe were home in their jimmy-jams and high-flying top-4 aspirant Manly Sea Eagles were beaten 30-16 by 13th-placed Canberra Raiders on a nippy, dewy and slightly odd Thursday evening at 4 Pines Park.
Odd? This hideous Covid malarkey meant an empty ground for the opening clash of Origin-affected Round 17, and Manly, after a bright beginning, were made to look tired and lumbering by borderline anonymous Raiders who found mojo through the building blocks of pro rugby league: complete, repeat – and repeat – sets.
And those, er, experts who predicted Manly to run “roughshod”, whatever that means, over Canberra had egg upon their weathered, ruggedly handsome faces.
Canberra, in their shiny sky blue and Navy blue highly out-of-context strip, were very good for long sections of the fixture. They played with a 3-man bench when Dunamis Lui hurt his calf. They completed 43 of 48 sets. They made Manly tackle all night.
In the 29th minute replacement rake Tom Starling scooted out of dummy-half and went under the posts through tired forwards who didn’t lay a finger upon him.
Starling was very good when he came on, energising the Raiders attack.
After several tidy grubbers by Matt Frawley forced so many repeat sets, it was Sam Williams who took on the tired Manly forwards and beat them, going under the posts.
Jarrod Croker nailed the conversion to the “applause” of crowd in a can and at half-time it was 12-4 the Baby Blue Machine. Manly had made 60 more tackles.
The second half was more of the same. By the 50th minute Manly had made seven drop-outs. Canberra’s kicking game pinned them like imported beetles like in that bit with the science geeks in Silence of the Lambs.
There were strips and six-agains. When Williams, perhaps the slowest, least mobile back on the field, stepped through for his second try under the posts, the Machine were up 18-4 and Manly looked shot with 30 minutes to play.
Then Sebastian Kris scored when a bomb bounced off Moses Suli’s head. And nothing in the body language of either side suggested a home team comeback.
And then they made one.
Haumole Olakau’atu channelled Gorden Tallis to thunder over for Manly’s second. Suli ran like an agile beast to get Manly within eight.
But when Emre Guler scored the fourth try of his 33 game NRL career, that was it for the local sea birds.
Things weren’t all bad for Manly.
Dylan Walker wore the No.7 and played like he always does as a running five-eighth. There’d been a knock on Walker playing “halfback” though it looked to be a smart piece of man management by noted smarty-pants Des Hasler when Walker opened the scoring by stepping through weak Raiders D for the opening try.
It appeared that Hasler had decreed that the number on a man’s back doesn’t matter. The advice to Walker was: just play. Do what you’re good at. Be you.
That included a couple of third tackle kicks, one straight across field to jason Saab that was a potentially sexy but ultimately quite odd bit of kit indeed.
But overall Walker was a tidy, free-running cog in the Manly attacking machine.
Kieran Foran played a similar role. In the 14th minute he ran left and flung a beautiful, fizzing bit of kit to Brad Parker who was on the wing when named in the centres, Des you crafty old buzzard you.
Parker didn’t ground the ball properly, however, in the opinion of the Alexandria Bunker Man, and that was as close as Manly got until the comeback that wasn’t one.
The takeway? Manly were missing their champion fullback, his brother and captain. And Canberra completed sets and turned in their best performance of the season.
Chalk it up as aberration.