And so to Canberra in Brisbane on Friday night and the question is, as it often is of late: will he play?
Update: He won’t.
We don’t know, of course (edit: now we do), not one hundred per cent. Because Des Hasler does not want us – or more to the point Raiders coach Ricky Stuart – to know.
Not yet, anyway.
Plus Hasler may not be sure himself.
Halser has named the man (it’s Tom Trbojevic, if you hadn’t guessed) in the No.1 jumper for the clutch round 23 fixture that pits fifth (Manly) versus 9th (Canberra). But that doesn’t mean anything. The big fullback was listed to play after Origin III and didn’t, and wasn’t injured, that we know and… anyway.
Hasler might ask: is it even our business?
Update: Hasler still not sure.
We do know that Trbojevic is carrying a banged-up cheekbone following the obliteration of Parramatta Eels last Saturday night, and plenty of types would assume that, in a short turnaround, with the man in such Herculean form, Hasler would not risk his ultimate prime mover.
But we don’t know.
Sea Eagles physiotherapist James Rahme – wheeled out each week by Manly Media for what’s effectively The Tommy Report – said on the club’s website:
“It’s come out in reports that ‘Turbo’ has had an injury to his facial structures.
“I can report that he’s had a knock to an old injury. The only concern is a bit of swelling. Not really too much pain.
“So from a medical point of view we’re not really concerned about the injury itself.
“We’re just assessing the swelling and if hopefully he’s comfortable as the week progresses to join training and be fine to play.”
So there you go. Make of it what you will. It’s like speculating about the end of lockdown.
We do know (or at least assume) that Brad Parker is an “out” because he is listed thus on SeaEagles.com.au.
Yet Rahme, eyes swivelling like a bad poker player’s, said Parker suffered a “Category One HIA” against Parramatta which meant he had to go off and stay off no matter how he felt in the moments after.
It was immaterial in Parker’s case as he looked confused whether he was in Disneyland or Disney World.
Reassuring for Manly fans – and Parker – is that Parker “was escorted off the field and I’m glad to say he woke up the next day”, according to Rahme.
“He’s feeling fine. He will go through the NRL protocols in terms of concussion. And it’s going to be hard with this short turnaround but the most important thing is ‘Parks’ goes through the protocol and feels fine and feels good. Hopefully he progresses well. He’s had a good start. So he’s looking good so far,” Rahme said.
Won’t play Friday night, though.
Anyway! The Raiders. Capital “B” Banana skin game for Manly, and no argument. The Raiders are often written off by myopic “Sydney” media because they couple their aversion to Canberra as a place (the press box down there is outdoors) with the footy club. It’s an Accepted Wisdom. Canberra is sort of “meh“.
But, like Manly, they have four wins in their last six. Like Manly they maybe should’ve beaten off-colour Melbourne Storm.
Like Manly Canberra is coming good at the right time of the year and welcome back a fullback, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad who is a heck of a footy player.
The last time these teams met – at empty Brookvale on a Thursday night, no Turbo, Daly Cherry-Evans, Jake Trbojevic, Josh Schuster, it seems longer than six weeks ago – someone called Matthew Frawley played five-eighth for Canberra and pinned the Eagles behind their dead ball like those scientist guys in Silence of the Lambs playing with their collection of exotic beetles, something like it.
But pinned Manly were and by the 57th minute they’d had seven drop-outs and were so tired the competition’s slowest halfback Sam Williams stepped through them for a double.
The Raiders are dangerous, even without captain Jarrod Croker, nippy Tom Starling and suspended Corey Harawira-Naera.
There are many offloads in their forwards: Joseph Tapine, Josh Papalii, Ryan Sutton, Iosia Soliola and Emre Guler. Big bombers, all. The stoush in the middle with Martin Taupau and Josh Aloiai will be pivotal.
Twenty-three-year-old backrower Hudson Young has strings to his bow while Elliott Whitehead and Josh Hodgson are the power Poms of the Raiders go-forward.
Yet their biggest threat is five-eighth Jack Wighton. Big body, big step. He’s coming into himself after an Origin lull. Morgan Harper and the men right edge need be up and on him, and no argument.
So: there are points in the Raiders.
But there are points, many of them, in Manly, too.
Since that round 17 defeat by Canberra the Sea Eagles have scored an average of 35.2 points per game.
And with quick play-the-ball Cherry-Evans and the big fullback can scheme around the ruck and enjoy ball going forward against back-peddling defenders who’ve worn repeat sets.
That’ll be the plan anyway.
Manly by 7.