Two fierce rivals, two of the top teams, touted by some as the best game we’ll see to date this season. It didn’t disappoint.
The Eels were the better side for the most part of the gripping end-to-end contest, but an eyebrow-raising forward pass ruling in the final minute robbed Manly of their chance to steal a win.
Mitchell Moses was the Eels standout performer with his crafty kicking, forcing repeat sets and creating opportunities. Reagan Campbell-Gillard also turned heads with his powerful display, running 201 metres from just 53 minutes in the game.
Points were at a premium early and Eels tries either side of the half tasked Manly with the undesirable challenge of turning around an 18-2 deficit.
The first half hour was a defensive deadlock, with either team unable to find a way through, the only scores being penalty goals
That all changed when Maika Sivo struck twice with dangerous arm-freeing ability, putting Michael Jennings and Dylan Brown over the line unaccompanied for a 12-2 lead at the half.
Maika Sivo in his off loading element
Parramatta pounced on a chance gifted to them by a Manly error mere seconds after the resumption. Kane Evans powering through a sea of Eagles bodies to inch the ball millimetres over the line.
A blowout teetering.
Jorge Taufua scored Manly’s first four pointer when he spun, tumbled and rolled his way to the line.
With Dylan Walker on the verge of adding a second for the Sea Eagles, Waqa Blake came in with a big body shot, carelessly prioritising flashiness over effectiveness. Walker took the hit and astonishingly kept his ball-carrying arm millimetres off the turf, with Blake out of the picture he was able to twist back towards the try-line and ground the footy.
After two quick tries Parramatta had seemingly weathered the Manly attack.
Still, the Sea Eagles needed just a converted try to tie things up. Sensing the scenario, Mitchell Moses audaciously slotted a field goal, taking a piece of the upright on the way through and crucially extending the Eels lead to 7.
The game was seemingly out of Manly’s reach, but the white flags stayed down.
The pressure was mounting on the Sea Eagles with time against them, and it showed. Daly Cherry-Evans stabbed a grubber into the path of Campbell-Gillard
With under four minutes remaining, Taufua struck for his double. Taking an offload from Brad Parker and knowing exactly where the try-line was, he lunged for it. Grounding the ball in the nick of time as three Eels simultaneously ploughed him into touch.
Reuben Garrick missed the conversion keeping the deficit at three, adding an extra degree of difficulty to the improbable comeback.
With just less than two minutes on the clock, the Sea Eagles had one set left. Blake Ferguson was caught infield and a Tom Trbojevic nearly found Taufua with a cut out that would’ve won the game. Realising where he was, Ferguson made a last ditch play for the ball, nearly intercepting it but instead knocking it down. Saving a try, but also restarting Manly’s set and giving them a sneaky chance at an late upset.
Tom Trbojevic took a quick catch and release from Cherry-Evans, finding Garrick on the wing who muscled his way over the line.
Manly’s short-lived ecstasy quickly turned sour as the realisation of what had happened sunk in. The Trbojevic pass was ruled forward, the try was disallowed, the fairytale fightback nothing but a fading dream.
The Trbojevic pass that briefly won the game before being incorrectly ruled forward
As footage of that fateful pass was scrutinised, it became apparent another chapter was being written in the unpredictable thriller. There had been a mistake – as later confirmed by NRL Head of Football Graham Annesley – the pass was in fact backwards.
Although Manly had every right to feel angry, robbed, unjust. It shouldn’t take away from Parramatta and their performance, and even the game in general, which was high quality rugby league.
The Eels’ doubters are declining week by week as they can continue to strengthen their premiership credentials and silence their critics. They’re now 4-0 for the first time since 1989, and have claimed a genuine scalp.
As entertaining as the game was, the sad reality is it will always be remembered for that fateful pass ruling. The controversy only fueling the rivalry and hatred between Parramatta and Manly.