A mate of mine called Baz was a soldier in Townsville in 1992 when he and a pal were wandering half-pissed through a shopping mall and came upon American actor Tom Berenger.
Yes, Tom Berenger, the famous Hollywood man – whom you might remember from such films as Major League and Smokin Aces II: Assassins Ball – was in Queensland to shoot Sniper, the Panamanian jungle war movie being shot in the Innisfail hinterland.
Yet it was Berenger’s role as “Sergeant Barnes” in the epic Vietnam War film Platoon that most appealed to Baz and his fellow soldier.
So they approached Berenger to discuss the nuances of the Oscar-winning motion picture.
“Barnes!” yelled Barry by way of introduction. “Hey, Barnes!
“Why’d you shoot Sergeant Elias, man?”
Berenger looked at Barry and half-smiled. Then he lowered his eyebrows. And went into character.
“Elias was full of shit,” said Berenger in Barnes’s raspy voice. “Elias was a crusader.
“Now, I got no fight with any man who does what he’s told, but when he don’t, the machine breaks down. And when the machine breaks down, we break down.
“And I could not let that happen.”
Baz and his mate naturally laughed their heads off, shook the great man’s hand and wished they’d had a camera given mobile phones much less selfies were not yet a thing. And there they bid the great Tom Berenger goodbye.
And the segue into a piece clearly about Friday night’s Manly Warringah Sea Eagles and Sydney Roosters sudden-death semi-final at BP Print Stadium in Mackay?
It is this: the Sydney Roosters are a machine. A busted and broken one, to be sure. But still a fightin’ machine.
With an injury and suspension list that would sink a nuclear submarine, they still, somehow, keep on truckin’ like the legless, arm-less knight from The Holy Grail.
And Trent Robinson would be coach of the year if Craig Bellamy had not taken his people to the equal-greatest run of victories in NSWRL / NRL history.
Regardless, it is these people, this machine, that Manly Warringah Sea Eagles must conquer if they are to continue onwards into this odd, vexed, ever-compelling season 2021.
In the first (and only) game these teams played this year, round one at the SCG, the Roosters scored nine tries in a 46-4 annihilation.
Manly were then flogged by Rabbitohs, Dragons and Panthers before a 79th minute one-point win over Warriors.
Then came round six and the Great Redeemer, Tom Trbojevic, returned and led the Sea Eagles to an earth-scorch 36-nil demolition of Gold Coast Titans in Mudgee.
There followed a welter of points as Manly steadily and surely made their way into fourth position on the Telstra Premiership ladder.
Yet there remains a question mark. For Manly has proven while they can absolutely pour points on lesser teams, they didn’t notch a win in 2021 against Storm, Panthers, Rabbitohs or Roosters.
They did twice trounce Parramatta Eels, so there is that. And they were 1-and-1 against the Raiders.
Yet the conceit remains: are these flat track bullies?
Manly can of course avenge their first round humiliation against a team missing nearly a dozen front-line troops.
They have their full complement on board and a week to right the wrongs of last Friday against Storm.
But you still wouldn’t anchor a multi with Manly $1.28…
Last weekend said Storm was able to “shut down” Trbojevic but they weren’t doing anything extraordinary. Everyone tries to get up on him, close down his space.
His lack of involvement, for mine, was more about not having the ball in the first place given his team-mates’ lack of respect for it.
One suspects Des Hasler will have addressed that, in his way, during the week.
Bookmakers have the Roosters $3.75 (and 12.5 start the line) and were I a betting man – and I am – that would represent that coveted price keen-eyed punters call “overs”.
Because even without all the big “outs” – Boyd Cordner, Jake Friend, Brett Morris, Luke Keary, Joey Manu – and the other pretty big if not as big outs – Sam Verrills, Lindsay Collins, Joseph Suaalii, Billy Smith, Sio Siua Taukeiaho – the Chooks can still trot out a formidable best XVII.
Look at ‘em: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Isaac Liu in the front row. Angus Crichton, Sitili Tupouniua and ball-playing hit-man lock Victor “The Inflictor” Radley in the backrow.
In the backs there’s Josh Morris, Daniel Tupou and the just about incomparable if it weren’t for Turbo fullback James Tedesco.
Sam Walker and The Butcher Boys, Nat and Egan, come off the bench with someone called Fletcher Baker, a 21-year-old from Muswellbrook who looks like a teenager with a bad attitude and a bum-fluff moustache.
Their hooker Ben Marschke’s so new they don’t even have a pic of him on the website.
Yet all of these people, big or small, old or new, form well-drilled, well-oiled cogs in Robinson’s remarkable machine.
Yet as Tom Berenger said and the Gold Coast Titans exposed, the machine can break down.
And Manly, whose best XVII has been largely unchanged, certainly in the backs, across their long period of confidence-building dominance of lesser lights (if not, y’know, the good teams), should be able to match the Roosters up front and flat-track bully them on the edges near and far.
There’s no secret to how: Ball control, good kick-chase, rushing “D”, play the ref off a break in terms of six-again, and score points when you’re up their end. And if you don’t, brutalise them near their line or get a repeat set and do it all again.
Also: stow the hero plays – they don’t need ‘em. Because they already have one in Turbo: The Great Redeemer.
Dessie’s likely reminded his people of these things, too.
Manly by 7.