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'We got what we deserved': Manly's epic choke as Raiders come back from 20-0 down to secure boilover win

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3rd May, 2024
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Canberra have pulled off one of the great comebacks to steal a 26-24 victory over Manly at 4 Pines Park with Hudson Young touching down a late Ethan Strange kick to turn a 20-0 half time deficit into a 26-24 win.

The Sea Eagles roared out of the blocks, and their lead, given the streaming rain on the Northern Beaches, seemed more than enough to see them home.

Yet Ricky Stuart’s boys do not know when they are beat. They scored while Albery Hopoate was in the bin and then battered Manly in the second half to grab what was, by the end, a well-deserved victory.

Elliott Whitehead, returning to the side for just his second game of the year, was Canberra’s best and exemplified the fighting spirit in the group.

The first Raiders try was off his intercept and subtle flick pass to Kaeo Weekes, and the two he got himself made from pure effort and enthusiasm.

It was the Englishman who sparked Canberra’s second half revival, but he did not go alone.

Weekes, facing his old club, showed composure well beyond his years, as did Strange to ice the moment when it arose. When Young touched down in the 77th minute, it was the first time they had led all night.

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“That’s the Raiders DNA,” said Stuart.

“How we performed last week wasn’t us and we had a choice to make this week to show what our real DNA is and that was one hell of a win.

“He doesn’t want to get a rap but having Elliott back – not just tonight, but he played one of his best games that I’ve seen him play.

“It’s not just the two tries but his leadership, his contribution in meetings this week. We missed three or four of our senior boys last week and he was massive this week. He was as good off the field as he was on it.”

Manly were shell-shocked. Anthony Seibold insisted that they not sit on their laurels at half time but the weather changed, both in the sky on the field.

What had been a dominant performance faded away badly. Some of that was Canberra’s excellent revival, but a significant portion was the inability of the Sea Eagles to play the percentages and see the game out. That is a major concern for Manly.

“We got what we deserved in the end,” he said.

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“We were up 20-0 and didn’t have a hard enough edge to finish the job.

“You’ve got to give the Raiders credit – they got beat 40-0 five days ago and I thought they played really tough. They got what they deserved because they kept playing tough.

“When we’re leading 20-0, we should be able to put the game away. We’re in this cluster of teams that on any given day can beat anyone else, and we’re trying to break that cluster.

“For us to get to the next level that we want to as a team, we need to make sure that we finish games like that off.”

They also lost Lachlan Croker to a concussion – ruling him out of next week’s trip to the Dolphins – and might have questions to answer at the judiciary over an alleged hip drop.

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Canberra’s fight is incredible

Canberra did very well indeed to be within shouting distance at half time given the possession advantage that Manly were able to generate.

They’d been battered between the red zones but scrambled and fought hard to stay in the contest and give themselves something to work with.

Their only attacking moment, however, had been a bit of a fluke and in their two visits to the Sea Eagles’ end, they had looked rudderless to say the least.

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That was the major knock on the Raiders last year: at times in good ball, it seemed like they were going through the motions to get to the bit where Jamal Fogarty was able to kick it. Without him, they don’t even have that option.

Instead, the issue was a lack of direction. Strange is a runner and so is Weekes. Out the back, whichever of Albert Hopoate or Seb Kris was at fullback was never likely to pull off the pass they needed.

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Both halves are also very young and found themselves out of the play late in the set thanks to their own running plays, ensuring that someone else had to take control of the most important moments.

That comes with the territory of young halves, especially when the nominal halfback would much rather be playing five eighth or fullback.

When Canberra did get over the line, it was the result of multiple offloads and pressure rather than created play, with Danny Levi showing the craft to bring Whitehead onto a crash ball.

Suddenly, Weekes was able to get a foothold in the game. His kick for Nick Cotric’s try showed superb vision to spot Tom Trbojevic absent at the back, and the execution was there to match.

The halves, who had been anything but controlling before the break, got some go forward and took maximum advantage.

Canberra knew that they were up against it, with rookie halves and a formidable opponent in good form.

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They would have looked for hard work to deliver them into a position to win and got that in spades.

Manly’s middle perform – then disappear

The easy story this year has always been Manly’s ultra-attacking style of play, and it was clear tonight that, even with the wet weather, that wasn’t going to change.

They passed the ball over the sideline trying to score on their very first set, made an attacking kick deep in their own half on the third and continued in the same vein all night.

The big win, though, was the pack. Seibold had identified ahead of time that if his side could meet Canberra in the middle, they’d likely win the game, but even he couldn’t have thought that it would be as one-sided as this.

Josh Aloiai and Taniela Paseka were immense, dominating Joey Tapine and Emre Guler – who started ahead of Josh Papali’i – and setting a platform that kept the game almost exclusively at one end of the field.

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The disciplinary stats were telling. Canberra had committed ten infringements in the first 25 minutes, when referee Grant Atkins finally lost patience and binned Hopoate, largely because they couldn’t change the momentum in the ruck.

Manly’s four tries were from just two line breaks – one was an intercept, another from a kick – so it wasn’t the edge that was winning it. It was all in the centre.

Seibold will be concerned that they could not maintain the rage across the 80 minutes, but he would have known that the Raiders pack would not allow that to happen.

His side have been at their best when playing with flash, but this was a welcome step forward for the middle.

This was the first time that Manly have been able to name his ideal rotation, with Aloiai and Paseka to start and the triple threat of Nathan Brown, Matt Lodge and Tof Sipley off the bench.

They need to be a lot better than this going forward, because the way they ceded control is far from good enough.

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Manly have looked great against the best and bad when expected to win. This was the worst example of that all year.

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