The Manly Warringah Sea Eagles have come away with a memorable victory over the in-form Wests Tigers, winning 38-34 at Brookvale Oval. The Sea Eagles burst out of the blocks in the first half and when the Michael Chee-Kam was sent off for dissent prior to half-time, the Tigers struggled to recover - despite fighting valiantly for a near-miracle comeback.
The Tigers' chances had already been dealt a blow before a ball had been kicked, with star hooker Robbie Farah being ruled out thanks to a virus. The capable Manaia Cherrington took his place in the starting side, with Manaia Rudolph coming onto the bench. For the Sea Eagles, the NRL call-up of Brad Parker and omission of Ben Fritz caused a host of changes, including the selection of Clint Maguire and Marli Sini and the movement of Daniel Vasek onto the bench.
In the game's opening stages, the mismatch of ladder positions was not apparent; Jordan Grant went close to scoring for the visitors but the Manly defence held strong and gave as good as they got with the ball.
It took until the 17th minute for the home side to draw first blood, after mounting significant pressure on the Tigers' line. Halauafu Lavaka - the number 10 playing at right centre - came up with a brilliant take of an offload to beat Justin Hunt and score the opening four-pointer. The conversion missed from out wide but it was 4-0 in favour of the Sea Eagles.
Points remained hard to come by and strong runs on both sides failed to progress the scoreboard, until Peter Schuster caught the Tigers' defence napping. The fullback threw a simple dummy to slide past Chance Peni and Charlie Taylor, with Dylan Kelly adding the extras for a 10-0 lead.
With four minutes remaining in the half, the Sea Eagles were in dangerous territory once again and the Tigers appeared to be out on their feet - but when Joshjua Tangitau threw an intercept for Chance Peni, the visitors hit back. Peni ran 50 metres before being brought down, but a quick play-the-ball and simple movement to the left hand side saw Watson Heleta score the easiest of tries a play later. With the conversion the Tigers trailed 10-6.
The most controversial ending to the opening stanza soon followed, with a vital send-off to Michael Chee-Kam resulting in a third Manly try. With the game still in the balance in the dying stages, the home side was once again close to their opposition's line and forced an error, packing a scrum with 30 seconds remaining. Chee-Kam's words to the ref in the aftermath earned the marching orders from referee Daniel Olford, before Lavaka made the most of the one-man advantage to bag his second in the ensuing set. The try was converted by Kelly for a 16-6 half-time score.
Chasing down a 10-point deficit with 12 men was always going to be a big ask and after Curtis Sironen's dangerous hit on Pita Godinet early in the second half, the Tigers were back defending their line. Lavaka soon made them pay once again, bringing up his hat-trick by beating Hunt and Taylor.
It was one-way traffic all of a sudden and a break from Dylan Kelly almost had Peter Schuster in almost immediately; the fullback was brought down, however, narrowly letting the Tigers off. With the ball spread acrossfield, Godinet looked to convert another opportunity with a grubber, but it was gathered by Justin Hunt who ran 80 metres to score against the run of play.
The important score appeared to give the Tigers a new lease on life and Jeremy Marshall-King soon made a half-break through the middle. They bombed that chance, but the ball soon found Heleta who dived over next to the posts. Amazingly, momentum had swung and the scoreline was back to 22-18.
The Tigers were well and truly on a roll, still with their backs against the wall and soon earned a penalty in enemy territory. Off the quick tap they incredibly completed their comeback, with Jack Littlejohn finding Sironen who slid straight through to score underneath the posts. With the successful kick, the men from Concord led 24 points to 22.
What might be considered natural justice soon followed, with a Godinet try moments later. The Sea Eagles skipper, who provided an intercepted grubber for Justin Hunt 15 minutes earlier, got revenge by intercepting a Hunt pass to run 40 metres and score. The conversion attempt was waved away, but the Sea Eagles were back in front at 26-24.
The back-and-forth Rugby League looked to continue as the Tigers were back on the attack, with Manaia Cherrington taken in a suspect tackle that his teammates thought may have been a penalty. They spread the ball to the left before Littlejohn threw yet another intercept for Marlin Sini to run 95 metres and score.
With seven minutes remaining, the Sea Eagles had the chance to put the result beyond doubt after earning a vital penalty for a dangerous tackle. Sure enough the home side scored their seventh of the afternoon, this time through Fabian Goodall who showed sheer determination to crash over. The conversion made the scoreline 38-24.
The Tigers weren't done with yet, however, and Jordan Grant would crash over with two minutes remaining for what appeared to be a consolation try. Incredibly, they backed it up with a second soon after when Hunt found space down the right touchline. The fullback put a grubber in for Taylor who chased it down to score. With just one minute remaining in the game, and down by four points, the Tigers opted not to take the conversion to give themselves a sniff at a fairytale comeback.
After fumbling the kick-off, the result was sealed for the 11th-places Sea Eagles. The full-time score read 38 points to 24 - capping off an incredible Round 24 game at Brookvale.
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