A last ditch effort to secure a Grand Final berth has fallen short for the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles in the NSWRL SG Ball Cup elimination semi-final at Leichhardt Oval today.
The Sea Eagles went down 20-18 to Canberra Raiders in a thrilling second half after Manly got off to a poor start to trail 18-0 after the opening 10 minutes.
Manly fought back gallantly late in the match but the loss was a cruel way for the Sea Eagles to end a fine season that saw them finish the regular season in second place under Coach Brett Fulton.
A no try call with minutes remaining broke the hearts of Manly fans around the ground. Manly has yet to claim an SG Ball Cup title after finishing runners-up four times.
Off the back of an error and a penalty against the Manly side, the Raiders opened the scoring three minutes in through prop Caleb Esera. The forward crashed over next to the posts and five-eighth Mitchell Spencer followed up by converting to take the score to 6-0.
A silly offside run from Manly at the kick-off gave the Raiders another penalty and set in their territory. They capitalised on the opportunity four minutes later as hooker Toby Thorburn burrowed under the defence to score. Spencer made the conversion to extend the lead to 12-0.
The Raiders scored their third try in a matter of minutes with the left edge of winger Xavier Savage and centre Deakin Bright linking up to score in the ninth minute, with the latter grabbing the try. Spencer converted from in front as Canberra raced away to an early 18-0 lead.
The Sea Eagles scored in the 14th minute with winger Uluaki Tuipulotu taking a great catch under the high ball before flicking the ball out to hooker Daniel O’Donnell who beat two defenders to score. Halfback Jamie Humphreys converted to bring the score to 18-6.
Manly’s lock Siua Fotu was placed on report in the 23rd minute for a late shot and a minute later was sin-binned for a high tackle on Raiders halfback Sione Moala. Spencer converted a penalty goal for a 20-6 lead.
With just over a minute to half-time, O’Donnell snuck out of dummy half and spun out of a defender’s tackle before reaching out to ground the ball, grabbing his second try of the match. Humphreys converted to leave the Sea Eagles trailing 20-12 at the break.
Manly opened the half with a strong running set, with prop James Uesele and centre Simon Tito making strong runs through the middle of the ruck. Humphreys put a smart grubber kick through that sat up in-goal, forcing a repeat set.
In the set that followed the dropout, the Sea Eagles struck again through fullback Kaeo Weekes as he fooled the defence with a dummy before breaking through and scoring. Humphreys converted for a 20-18 scoreline.
Over the next 10 minutes, both sides made a handful of errors and each gave away a number of penalties as the game continued to swing back-and-forth, with each side looking to strike.
After yet another error from the Canberra side, Manly were edging closer and closer to the line. Weekes looked to be through for his second try, only for the referee to call the play back again for a penalty against the Sea Eagles.
In the 58th minute, the Sea Eagles showcased their strength and resilience at the line, holding out countless efforts from the Raiders from inside their ten. Ultimately, after three sets of pressure, Manly forced an error after their continuous strong defence and regained the ball.
With seven minutes remaining, Manly five-eighth Krystian Mapapalangi made a stunning run under the ruck and was close to breaking past the defenders, only to be held back ten metres out.
The ball was shifted to Humphreys who put a crossfield kick to winger Cameron Brown, who was taken out in the air, gaining another penalty. Unfortunately, the ball was dropped in the set that followed as the game looked to be going down to the wire.
With just under five minutes left, Mapapalangi popped up again and chose to go himself down the right edge, running hard and almost scoring, only to be called back for a double movement.
Off the scrum with a minute remaining, the ball was shifted out to the left edge and found Manly centre Tolu Koula, who unfortunately turned the ball over with an error to end the Sea Eagles chances.