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The not-so-secret ingredient that transforms team into title contenders on show as Manly roll Rabbitohs in Vegas

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3rd March, 2024
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Manly defied the odds in Las Vegas to upset South Sydney 36-24 and show they can be a headline act in 2024 to kick off the historic Round 1 double-header.

The NRL executives wanted to put on a show with their bold gamble of staging matches in the United States and both teams fulfilled their end of the bargain by providing a high-class match in their first hit-out of the year. 

There are two kinds of teams that wear the maroon and white of Manly – the struggling side that routinely misses the finals when Tom Trbojevic is injured and the one that can topple the NRL’s top teams when the star fullback is providing top-quality attack from anywhere on the field. 

He missed most of 2023 due to shoulder surgery and the Sea Eagles’ season petered out before finishing a disappointing 12th.

In his return match he was as incisive as ever and although denied a try twice by the barest of margins, he came with two line break assists, including one which yielded a try, and made a line break of his own on the way to racking up 210 running metres.

The addition of Luke Brooks at five-eighth got off to a promising start for the Sea Eagles with the former Wests Tigers playmaker settling into a secondary role behind skipper Daly Cherry-Evans and allowing Trbojevic the space to weave his magic.

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“I’m really happy for him, he’s worked so hard in the pre-season,” DCE said of his halves partner. “Hopefully the best is yet to come but he was outstanding tonight.”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 02: Latrell Mitchell of the Rabbitohs and Tom Trbojevic of the Sea Eagles compete for the ball from a kick during the round one NRL match between Manly Sea Eagles and South Sydney Rabbitohs at Allegiant Stadium, on March 02, 2024, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Latrell Mitchell of the Rabbitohs and Tom Trbojevic compete for the ball. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Brooks was thrilled with the unique circumstances of his Manly debut.

“It’s crazy to be able to come here and make my club debut where the Super Bowl was, it’s a pinch yourself moment. I’m just happy we got the two points as well,” Brooks added.

Rabbitohs journeyman Richie Kennar, brought into the centres for the suspended Jack Wighton, will be the answer to many a trivia question in the future when it comes to who scored the first NRL try on US soil?

He accepted a pass from Damien Cook to crash over from short range in the seventh minute for a 6-0 lead.

Manly looked certain to equalise in the 17th minute when Jason Saab galloped into the backfield but a desperate ankle tap from Lachlan Ilias brought him down just inside the condensed Allegiant Stadium sidelines. 

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They managed to get on the board five minutes later when Latrell Mitchell fumbled the ball on his goal line with Tom Trbojevic denied a try by Ilias spoiling his attempted put-down just before the stripe.

Haumole Olakau’atu beat the stretched defence from the ensuing scrum win.

Souths went 10-6 up when Mitchell fired a bullet pass wide to Jacob Gagai for the 28-year-old winger to touch down in his NRL debut. 

Trobojevic again went within millimetres of scoring in the 35th minute when he lost possession following a Damien Cook try-saving tackle which needed the NRL Bunker to confirm the ball just spilt free.

Mitchell added another try assist of the wrong kind when his quick-release pass went no further than Jason Saab near halfway just before half-time for Manly to take a 12-10 advantage to the break. 

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Even though he’s slimmed down in the off-season, Mitchell has retained his trademark power and carried three defenders over the line to make up for his intercept blunder.

He then provided a split-second catch-and-pass for Alex Johnston to touch down for a 20-12 buffer in the 49th minute.

But with Souths turning over the ball with regularity, the Sea Eagles refused to lie down with Lachlan Croker burrowing over from dummy-half and then Tom Trbojevic assisting brother Ben over the line to go up 24-20.

And when Reuben Garrick spiked the ball in the end zone NFL style after pouncing on a Daly Cherry-Evans grubber midway through the second half, Manly had blitzed their way to a 10-point margin.

“It’s round one, when you’re not holding onto the ball the fatigue gets the better of you,” Souths coach Jason Demetriou said.

Brooks cut through down the left edge to seal the victory four minutes from full-time before Kennar added a consolation four-pointer.

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Saab failed to finish the match due to a hamstring injury, which was the only sour note for the victorious Sea Eagles who will be genuine finals contenders this season as long as Trbojevic stays on the park.

“Ultimately this year we’re just trying to play our football, and sometimes our football is going to look like that regardless of the shape of the field,” Cherry-Evans said.  “We said that coming over here, we didn’t want to just completely disregard our pre-season worth of training.

“We have a style that we want to play, there were probably glimpses of it tonight. I hope the Americans have taken notice.”

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