By Matt Buxton
The Manly Sea Eagles have stunned the Illawarra Cutters and overcome a 16-point deficit to secure a 32-20 victory, their first win of the season.
Jayden Hodges, David Williams, and Kurt Aldridge inspired the Sea Eagles’ impressive comeback after an abysmal opening 30 minutes of the game.
The Sea Eagles were under extreme pressure from the start, as halfback Jack Littlejohn kicked the ball out on the full twice in the opening four minutes.
The Cutters raced away to a 16-point lead after just 28 minutes, whilst having a majority of possession and excellent ball control.
Consecutive sets for the Cutters led to a solo try by halfback Drew Hutchinson just seven minutes into the game. He converted his own try.
Both sides blew chances before Cutters winger Kiti Glymin scored in the left corner after finishing a nice backline shift. Hutchinson missed from the sideline and it was 10-0 after 18 minutes.
Hodges was held up in an effort to finally get the Sea Eagles on the board, but poor kicking, discipline, ball control, and execution meant the Cutters had most of possession early on and were constantly attacking the Sea Eagles’ line.
Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard eventually ran through an enormous gap and scored, highlighting the substandard defensive performance of the Sea Eagles, putting the Cutters 16-0 in front just 28 minutes into the game.
It was looking to be a grim afternoon for the Sea Eagles, however consecutive line-breaks by Todd Wilson led to back-to-back tries on the stroke of half-time, which gave them some hope going into break.
Aldridge crossed for a simple four-pointer to get the Sea Eagles on the board, and Williams scored the try of the afternoon off the kick-off courtesy of a magnificent Brayden Wiliame sideline dash and a Dom Reardon magic pass. The comeback was on.
Both tries were converted, and the Cutters led 16-12 at half-time.
The second half began poorly for the Sea Eagles, after Cutters fullback Tyron Cranston stripped the ball and scored immediately after the kickoff. Hutchinson’s conversion attempt hit the post, leaving the score at 20-12 to the Cutters.
Shortly after the Sea Eagles bombed a certain try, a smart Hodges grubber from dummy half led to Williams second try under the posts to make it 20-18 to the Cutters after 47 minutes.
The Sea Eagles declined a shot at penalty goal to tie the scores up in the 59th minute after an indiscretion in front of the uprights, but it turned out to be the correct decision as Hodges burrowed in from dummy half off the back of the penalty to put the Sea Eagles in front for the first time, making it 24-20.
Pressure mounted for the Cutters when Jake Marketo was penalised for an ugly spear tackle, as well as two dummy-half passes that went wayward in a matter of minutes.
In a sudden twist of fate, it seemed the Cutters had crushed the Sea Eagles comeback hopes in the 74th minute when Rulon Nutria muscled his way over, but it was ruled to be a double movement.
The Sea Eagles wrapped the game up when Ben Fritz scored in the corner after collecting a bomb that found the turf and bounced in his direction. The try was converted and the score 30-20.
A penalty goal on the stroke of full time gifted the Sea Eagles an extra two points, attaining their first win of the season thanks to a composed Hodges and strong performances by Williams and Aldridge.
The Sea Eagles will travel to Aubrey Keech Reserve next week to play Mounties, whilst the Cutters will host the North Sydney Bears at Win Stadium.
Manly Sea Eagles 32 (David Williams 2, Ben Fritz, Jayden Hodges, Kurt Aldridge; Kurt Aldridge 6 goals) def. Illawarra Cutters 20 (Tyron Cranston, Kiti Glymin, Drew Hutchinson, Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard tries; Hutchinson 2 goals)