Friday night football returned to Brookvale for the first time in 2015 and the result left the 10,498 fans a little deflated. In recent fixtures between the two sides, there had only been two occasions where they had been separated by more than eight points and tonight was no different.
Manly head coach Geoff Toovey was forced into some late changes with Jamie Lyon (leg) and Blake Leary (back) ruled unfit for play. Brayden Wiliame replaced skipper, Lyon in the centres and Justin Horo replaced Blake Leary on the bench.
The game began with a spark with the Bulldogs taking a cheeky short kick off, attempting to catch the Sea Eagles off guard; however it didn’t work in their favour and the Sea Eagles started in great field position.
The game was extremely physical early on with Brayden Wiliame copping an early knock to the head. Unfortunately for the young centre he was taken of the field five minutes later with a concussion and did not return until deep in to the first half.
The game then became end-to-end with both sides looking threatening in attack. Tom Symonds went closest when Matt Ballin kicked close to the line, however the back rower was unable to ground the football.
Neither side gave an inch and it took a break away from Brett Morris to open proceedings. A cross field kick from Daly Cherry-Evans was gathered by Cheyse Blair and the winger then found himself kicking again, the bounce didn’t go his way and it landed in Morris' hand. He steamed down the field and it took a last ditch tackle from Cherry-Evans to stop him.
Manly then worked over time to keep the other Morris brother Josh from scoring, but the Bulldogs made their chance count when halfback, Trent Hodkinson teed up Josh Jackson and the second rower was able to offload to his centre Tim Lafai for the first points.
The Bulldogs were then lucky to keep their lead when a poor play the ball gave Manly good field position. Manly then resulted to kicking and Cheyse Blair was the first man on the scene to ground the ball, however referee Matt Cecchin wasn’t convinced. Going upstairs, the video footage showed obstruction in the lead up play and the try was disallowed.
This disallowed try spurred the Sea Eagles on and with good use of the bench they started to out run the Bulldogs with their mobility. Cherry-Evans managed to force a repeat set and the follow up play resulted in points. Finding good form in his new role at five eighth, Feleti Mateo was dangerous close to the line and his inside step saw him score near the posts for his first try in the maroon and white. Unfortunately for Manly, replacement kicker Steve Matai missed an easy kick and the score remained level at 4-4.
But, the half took another twist five minutes from time. Winger Sam Perrett snatched a regular bomb from Hodkinson after some poor communication between Matai and Brett Stewart. Perrett then passed inside for his team Lafai who scored his second of the night. Hodkinson was successful with the kick this time and score went out to 10-4 Bulldogs way.
The second half started as tense as the first with both teams not giving an inch. The first ten-minute saw the referees tell the players on more than a couple of occasions to play the ball back in the right spot. Much to the displeasure of those at 'The Fortress'.
After these discrepancies stopped, it was Manly who got the scoreboard first and it took some magical footwork from Matai to produce it. After a reverse kick from Cherry-Evans, the veteran centre kicked to himself regathering the ball and then steamed to the line. He was almost denied by a fantastic tackle from Aiden Tolman, but was able to get himself over the line with the ball in amongst a flurry of Bulldogs players. However, again referee Cecchin was not convinced suggesting ‘no try’ when sending it upstairs. But the video referee overturned the decision and Manly were back in it.
The game became a real dogfight and no side looked to get any headway. It was eventually the Bulldogs who scored through Perrett. The winger was easily played in from close range and all he had to do was put the ball down.
It was a case of what could have been for Manly, with the previous play almost an intercept from, Tom Symonds could have prevented the Bulldogs try.
But the game took another twist. Sea Eagles took a trick out of the Bulldogs playbook and went for the short kick off and coming up with it. The Sea eagles then set themselves and eventually after a few close calls scored after a looping pass from Cherry-Evans found Peta Hiku out wide.
In the end the Bulldogs held out for the win in a hard fought match. Manly will rue the missed conversion attempts but will not be too hard of themselves as they took the game to the huge bulldogs pack.
The game finished 16-12 at Brookvale Oval the Bulldogs triumphant in a tight affair.