The growing sense that Manly is set to come apart at the seams had one more thread pulled on it last night when Canterbury downed them 18-17 with a golden-point field goal after 4 minutes of extra time. It follows on from Friday’s 1-point win to the Roosters over the Cowboys.
Earlier this year, Trent Hodkinson sunk the Maroons with a field goal to win State of Origin for the Blues. This time, in blue and white, he did it to the maroon and whites after the Sea Eagles fought back from a 16-nil deficit to even the score.
Canterbury and their coach, former Manly star Des Hasler, are now through to a preliminary final against Penrith next week, while Manly’s talent looks set to scatter to the four winds, including Canterbury.
Manly’s tribal loathing has switched from Wests and Melbourne and this game came with plenty of niggle. Manly’s Josh Starling spent time in the sin bin under the new one-punch rule after being caught in a chicken wing tackle midway through the first 40. It was more tap than punch, and his team received the penalty, while Bulldogs tackler Josh Jackson is on report, but off Starling went. Canterbury’s turn came when veteran Reni Maitua, only minutes into coming off the interchange bench, had a brain snap and ran in to join a skirmish in the in-goal area after a mistake by captain Michael Ennis led to a Manly try for Cheyse Blair and Justin Horo sledged the Bulldog boss.
Maitua spoke with his fists, so the ref let his feet do the walking to the change rooms for 10 minutes.
At least Manly had the distraction of fighting someone other than themselves for a change. The Bulldogs were dominant in the first half, before Manly hooker Jayden Hodges snuck across the line seconds before the break to reduce the deficit to 10.
Brett Stewart’s 200th game was celebrated with a try, but he couldn’t land his field goal attempts. Daly Cherry-Evans kept the Eagles on level pegging at 17-all with his field goal after Hodkinson’s first shot came from a legal twist that only Rumpole would have seen coming. Josh Reynolds kicked the ball into the ref, who was set to give Manly the scrum feed before the m’learned Josh Morris pointed out the rule that says the attacking side gets the ball back.
In his second year as Bulldogs coach, Des Hasler once again put it over the club that sacked him in 2011. He’s now just one game away from back-to-back grand final appearances for Canterbury. That’s what unity does for a team.