It was all set up for the Sea Eagles. A trip across the ditch to take on a frustratingly inconsistent Warriors side that was coming off consecutive losses; the most recent, a thumping at the hands of Canberra on their home patch.
While a continuation of Manly’s recent run of form seemed likely, there is always an alternative scenario, one that often spells disaster.
The Warriors can be enigmatic and a visit to Mount Smart Stadium on a wet and slippery night has caught many a top-eight team off guard over the years.
The mad scientist that is Des Hasler would have planned for every contingency and emphasised to his team that a place in the top four was in the offing.
Despite little early ball for the Warriors in attacking position, Ken Maumalo scored two tries in the opening 26 minutes.
Ligi Sao also found the stripe after magnificent work from Roger Tuivasa-Sheck that involved the use of his foot, both hands and an eventual pass through his legs. It has to be seen to be believed.
Brad Parker left the field for the Sea Eagles after a bizarre incident in which he appeared to tweak his knee while taking a tap and when Daly Cherry-Evans re-injured his troublesome ankle with eight minutes remaining in the first half, the doomsday nightmare appeared to be unfolding for the Sea Eagles.
If improved ladder position was the number one criteria for the NRL Coach of the Year award, Hasler would be the hot favourite right now.
However, that counted for nothing as the Warriors took the contest to his troops and a late penalty sent the home side to the sheds with an 18-0 half-time lead.
Manly were stunned, I was stunned, I think even the Warriors’ fans were stunned. It was not the way Dr Des had planned the itinerary. The next 30 minutes became something of a slog, as the clouds above the shaky isles opened further.
It took the visitors 69 minutes to find a four pointer, yet off the back of Adam Blair’s sin binning, the Sea Eagles came to life.
Reuben Garrick began scoring tries and kicking goals and with just five minutes remaining, Manly were briskly within two points at 18-16.
Alas, a late try to Jazz Tevaga sealed the deal for the home side and Manly’s trip from hell was complete. How often have we seen a side heavily favoured to win, experience a disastrous, wet and frustrating night on the road such as Manly did last night?
They will rue the wasted opportunity and the Bunnies will look to capitalise on the Sea Eagles’ failure to sneak into the four when they face the Storm on Sunday.
In the second Friday night game, both the Sharks and Panthers had the chance to solidify their claims on a top eight spot. Level on 20 competition points, the teams played accordingly and nervously in the early minutes; fully aware of what was at stake.
The Panthers took the early initiative and a Brent Naden try helped build an 8-0 lead midway through the first half.
The home side did have a considerable wind at their back in the first 40, a wind so strong that the writers’ toupee came adrift a number of times during one of Sydney’s windiest days for some time.
Despite no James Maloney to choreograph things for the Panthers, young Matt Burton stepped up and produced a quality opening half.
It reminded everyone of the immense talent pool at the Panthers’ disposal and the 19-year-old from Dubbo was composed and effective with the ball.
The Sharks did pull one try back into the breeze when Shaun Johnson sent Wade Graham over the line in the 32nd minute yet Nathan Cleary responded with a try of his own to give the Panthers a 20-4 lead at the break.
If there was any thought of the Sharks using the conditions to their advantage and mounting a serious challenge in the second half, it seemed unlikely early.
However the visitors were to find their mojo and tries to Jack Williams and Josh Morris brought the visitors within ten points with 15 minutes remaining.
When Sosaia Feki crossed on the left wing with just five minutes on the clock, Cronulla were back within six yet Burton produced a stunning defensive effort on a rampant Johnson in the dying minutes to deny John Morris’ team and the Panthers iced the game 26-20 soon after.
It was a stunning debut from Burton. In both attack and defence, the youngster led the way and worked brilliantly in unison with Cleary around the ruck.
A host of NRL scouts will have noted his performance, knowing that the production line of Panthers’ juniors cannot be retained by the club in its entirety.