The Manly Sea Eagles have effectively ended the finals hopes of the Canberra Raiders, in control all the way as they won 36-22 in the nation’s capital.
The loss consigns them to 12th place on 24 competition points, level with four other teams but given the Raiders sport a poor differential record making the finals series will be all the harder from their position.
Meanwhile Manly secured the all-important top four berth, putting themselves five points clear of the Bulldogs at the top end of the ladder.
It was the Raiders who looked promising early, capitalising on an early error from Manly to mount their first attacking raid of the afternoon just minutes into the game. Josh McCrone’s cross-field bomb was batted back to earth by Jarrod Croker, and it was prop Brett White who was on the spot to clean up. The big man barged his way over and claimed first points, but the video referee found that he had been stripped by Peta Hiku before the ball had been grounded and Manly survived. It was then the home side’s defence getting a workout as Manly looked to strike, the left edge doing well to catch the elusive Peta Hiku and luck falling in Canberra’s favour as his flick pass couldn’t be collected by an unmarked David Williams.
Manly had more chances on the Canberra line and were wasteful with them, as first Kieran Foran knocked on the left and then a poor pass from Steve Matai stifled their options a few minutes later. Eventually they were able to capitalise on their opportunities, as Jamie Lyon displayed a great piece of skill to take Foran’s pass on the outside of his man and muscle through for first points.
Foran and Lyon combined again to double the lead just minutes later, this time the Canberra defence pushing up sparking Foran to put boot to ball. The well weighted grubber behind the line was reached first by Lyon, who had no troubles with the grounding. He converted both his own tries to put Manly up 12-0 less than halfway through the first period.
A piece of Daly Cherry-Evans magic saw Manly in good position immediately after and pressing their advantage, Cherry-Evans’ pinpoint accuracy resulting in a superb 40/20 and putting Manly deep inside Raiders territory. It was another piece of individual skill to extend their lead even further, when Peta Hiku joined the attacking line from the back, dummied wide to his support before stepping inside the cover defence and finding the line.
It looked like it was going to be a long day at the office for the Raiders when they were foiled at one end and then breached at the other as they went desperately close through winger Sami Sauiluma, only for him to lose the ball in a great defensive effort from David Williams in the corner. Manly hit back straight away, earning a penalty to put them in good field position before the left side attack clicked again and Foran weaved his magic, drifting across-field before finding Jamie Buhrer running a nice inside line. Buhrer slipped straight through a gap in the Raiders’ defence, touching down under the posts to extend the lead to 24.
Canberra were able to build some pressure of their own five minutes later when Anthony Milford’s kicking game earned a repeat set, before Matt Ballin was penalised for a high shot in the subsequent repeat set. For their efforts on the Manly line the Raiders came away with their first points of the afternoon, when Joel Thompson muscled his way close before rolling in the tackle and stretching out to score. The play was put under the double movement microscope but the on-field referee’s decision was upheld and the green light displayed for the green machine.
The first half ended in a flurry for the Raiders, as Bill Tupou busted through the line from deep inside his own territory before finding Reece Robinson racing through in support. A twist of controversy saw Steve Matai sin-binned on the stroke of halftime, his holding down in the tackle off the break deemed a professional foul and Matai was sat down for 10 minutes. The Raiders couldn’t make anything of the opportunity with just a single play on the stroke of halftime, and went into the sheds 18 points down but a man up for the best part of the opening 10 minutes of the second half.
Anthony Milford was at it again to open festivities in the second period, booting a 40/20 to put his team in good field position early. From there it was the flying Reece Robinson to finish things off, the fullback chiming in and pinning the ears back to fly through Matai’s gap in the Manly defence and score in the corner. There was some hope for Raiders fans and they seemed to be well on their way to mounting a comeback minutes later when Josh McCrone raced through off a dummy, but he butchered the opportunity when he kicked ahead for winger Sandor Earl instead of looking for support on his inside.
Matai returned and the Canberra resistance suffered another blow minutes later, when a nice right to left move opened up a gap for Anthony Watmough, receiving the ball off a draw and pass from Matt Ballin, to score under the posts.
A largely error-filled second half continued and both teams missed out on half chances, as a forward pass from Josh Papalii and then a knock on from Anthony Watmough dashed their respective teams’ chances at mounting pressure on the opposition line.
A mounting penalty count against the visitors helped Canberra significantly, and it was off the back of such ill-discipline that they again worked their way into good field position. This time it was Milford calling the shots and he showed great vision to find Sami Sauiluma on the left wing with the Manly defence left ruing their decision to come up and in on the young half. Croker’s conversion was narrowly waved away and the score was 30-16.
It wasn’t all coming up trumps for Milford however, as he knocked on in attempting to gather a well placed and well weighted chip over the defence from Josh McCrone.
There were more near misses for Manly on the Raiders’ line as Kieron Foran won the race to a beautiful Daly Cherry-Evans grubber but was unable to control it, but the visitors were gifted another chance thanks to a Raiders knock on and capitalised directly from the scrum, Foran going wide to Matai who was able to beat his man before going to Jorge Taufua on the wing. Sandor Earl looked to have Taufua’s measure but was unprepared for the young gun’s brutal fend, left grasping at thin air as Taufua streaked away to score.
Milford was one of the few shining lights for the Raiders and he snatched a final consolation try shortly before fulltime, spotting a half-gap in the Manly line and showing fantastic footwork to slip through. His speed was on show as he rounded Peta Hiku, foiled only by an ankle tap from which he recovered and evaded the remaining Manly cover defence to score under the posts. Croker converted to bring the score to 36-22, which it remained for the rest of the game.
Next week Canberra cross the Tasman to try to revive their flagging top eight hopes when they face the Warriors, before they host Cronulla in the final match of the season in Round 26. Manly will host Melbourne to put themselves in with a chance to steal third spot next weekend before a final round clash with Penrith, also at Brookvale.