Manly Warringah Sea Eagles are on the crest of a wave. After a flat-out hideous, zero-from-four start in which 156 points were piled upon them by Roosters, Rabbitohs, Dragons (Dragons!) and Panthers, Manly has had one blip since, an 18-10 loss to Newcastle at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Otherwise, Manly’s been really, really good.
They put 50 points on North Queensland and 50 on Brisbane. They put 38 on Warriors, 40 on Wests Tigers and flogged Gold Coast Titans 36-nil in Mudgee in round five, a game which was, not coincidentally, Tom Trbojevic’s first game of this National Rugby League season.
And said superman is back for Sunday’s game against those very same Gold Coast Titans and you’d suggest with very great certainty that of all the “Ins” in either team’s line-up, Turbo is the biggest in of all.
The big man is a shifter of betting markets, if not worlds. He is a high-calibre weapon. He is lots better than all the Gold Coast Titans, a tired old mob of borderline beach bums who don’t have the cattle to corral him.
The Titans are on 10 premiership points which is nominally one game out of the eight given St George Illawarra are eighth on 12 points. But the Titans are the length of the greater cosmos from a finals quality side. They’re rubbish, Gold Coast Titans, the perennial sad-sacks of the NRL. And nobody can tell you why a Queensland league region with population one million cannot win games of rugby league with all their local and enticed talent.
But they cannot, it is a thing. And it’s always been a thing. And for all the talent of Tino Fa’asuamaleaui – a name which rolls off Ray Warren’s tongue like a golden throat lozenge – and the thunder man David Fifita, the Titans will be, because they always mostly are, sorry, not sorry, shit.
They won’t be shit. Not complete shit, anyway. But they are what kids today would call “meh”.
That said … this is what we thought would happen to “Ponga-less Knights” a few weeks ago, and this is what actually happened, and our betting account has not recovered since.
So let’s treat these Titans with some dignity if not respect.
On the NRL’s website it says the Titans are “up among the competition heavyweights when it comes to line breaks. They sit fourth in the NRL behind the Storm, Panthers and Roosters. They are also fifth in tries scored (56) but lurking just behind them in sixth place is Manly (55).”
So there is that.
But there is all this: They are shit.
Again, they are not shit.
But they are not a team of top people.
Who are these people?
On the NRL’s website it says Mitch Rein, AJ Brimson and Anthony “Is Don, is good” Don are “in” for the Gold Coast Titans, and yet they are listed in numbers 18, 20 and 21 respectively.
Kevin Proctor is an “out” but Jai Whitbread is “in” while Moeaki Fotuaika will start in the position that what was once prop or front-row but now is “the middle”.
Another bench-rider is the mercurial Tyrone Peachey.
Once Brad Fittler’s State of Origin spirit animal, today the former Penrith Panther gets less press than Christopher Skase, the businessman and fugitive who died in 2001.
Remember when Braith Anasta always “won” the “most over-rated” award in Rugby League Week’s player survey? It meant more the amount of press related to the man’s output. Peachey isn’t like that. He gets very little press because he does very little stuff.
Elsewhere former Manly man Brian Kelly goes okay in the centres and five-eighth Ash Taylor is capable of the odd skilful flourish.
But if the Sea Eagles don’t put 50 on these pelicans there’ll be something seriously amiss. Like South Africans poisoning the All Blacks’ clam chowder amiss.
Because Manly – even with Josh Schuster still out with the calf injury, he was due back this round but is perhaps being left in cotton wool for more important fixtures – are smoking. Because while Trbojevic is listed at fullback, Fittler’s use of him in Origin #1 has shown us the way: let Tommy go wherever Tommy wants and do whatever he wants when he gets there.
Tommy? Here is the field. Disregard the lines. Disregard all the numbers on players’ jumpers. You just do whatever it is you like.
What a player. Those first four games were like purgatory, a waiting room in Hell with Parramatta and Melbourne grand final wins on a big screen. And then he came back. And made everything better.
And everyone: Jake Trbojevic was instantly better and so was captain Daly Cherry-Evans who will run out in first grade game number 250 for Manly on Sunday.
Brad Parker, Jason Saab, Morgan Harper – better, better, better.
Reuben Garrick was better last weekend against North Queensland Cowboys and Tommy wasn’t even playing. That’s an influential player who can imbue a wingman with affectations to fullback play just by watching him from row four.
Elsewhere Manly’s “ins” are Sean Keppie (bench), the great one Trjbojevic (anywhere he wants), while Christian Tuipulotu and Tevita Funa look set to ride those lengths of pine not contained within the advertising hoardings of CBUS Super Stadium.
Sucks to be them.
Sucks to be Gold Coast more.
Manly by 46.