The gallant season of the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles ended tonight following a 36-16 loss to South Sydney Rabbitohs in the Preliminary Final at Suncorp Stadium
The Sea Eagles made it through to the Grand Final qualifier after losing their first four matches of the season before making a superb charge to the finals to finish the regular season in fourth place.
Following an opening finals loss to premiers Melbourne, the Sea Eagles then beat the Sydney Roosters 42-6 last week to advance to the Preliminary Final in an attempt to make their first Grand Final since 2013.
The game was pushed back 15 minutes from the allocated starting time after the Sea Eagles team bus was delayed in traffic due to an earlier accident.
Moses Suli came into the team to replace injured Manly centre Brad Parker (hand).
Manly started off with a strong defensive set in which they kept their opponent inside their own half thanks to some hard hitting tackles. An early kick from hooker Lachlan Croker was metres away from finding touch for a 40/20 as the tension continued to build. The Rabbitohs failed to get out of their own half in their first three sets, showcasing the physicality of the Sea Eagles side.
With five minutes gone, prop Sean Keppie was taken from the field for a HIA assessment and would later not return.
Rabbitohs five-eighth Cody Walker scored the first try in the 12th minute after a scrappy situation which saw the ball bobble around. Full-back Blake Taaffe converted for a 6-0 scoreline.
The Rabbitohs made an error around the middle of the field through second-rower Jayden Su’A and the Sea Eagles had their first opportunity of the match. The ball was shifted to the right and winger Jason Saab was beginning to hit his stride until he was taken over the sideline thanks to some desperate defence.
In the 19th minute, Manly appeared to be in for their first try through the combination of Tom Trbojevic and winger Reuben Garrick after a break in play, only for it to be called back for an obstruction call in the lead up to the try.
The Rabbitohs scored again three minutes later through winger Alex Johnston after a handful of sets at the line. Taaffe made the conversion from the sideline to make the score 12-0.
Trbojevic almost got the Sea Eagles a try but lost the ball in trying to score in as three man tackle.
Sea Eagles hooker Lachlan Croker then prevented Rabbitohs centre Campbell Graham from burrowing underneath for another try before Walker had his second try for the Rabbitohs in the 28th minute from a Damien Cook grubber. Taaffe converted for an 18-0 lead.
Five minutes before half-time, Daly Cherry-Evans attacked the short side and linked up with Haumole Olakau’atu before the half-back was unable to stay in play.
South Sydney scored in the 37th minute through winger Jaxson Paulo and Taaffe was unable to make the conversion from the sideline for a 22-0 lead at half-time.
After a smart play from Tom Trbojevic which saw him take a kick with a foot in touch (resulting in better field position), the Sea Eagles finally had their first try of the match with three minutes played in the second half.
Garrick crossed for a four-pointer after a phenomenal signature no-look pass from Josh Schuster. The tryscorer converted his own try from the sideline for a 22-6 scoreline.
The Rabbitohs hit back and scored six minutes later through Graham. Taaffe made the conversion to take the score to 28-6.
Paulo scored his second for South Sydney in the 58th minute. Taaffe’s conversion was unsuccessful, bringing the score to 32-6.
Prop Josh Aloiai was sent to the sin bin in the 67th minute. Garrick registered another line break four minutes later with a strong run down the left edge and put a grubber kick through to the middle of the field but were unfortunate with the bounce of the ball as the Rabbitohs regained possession.
‘Turbo’ scored a consolation try with six minutes to play after a big break in play from Suli. Schuster ran at the line and held up the ball well to create space for the centre, who eventually dragged in the opponent before handing it to Trbojevic.
Trbojevic's try saw him pass Phil Blake's record or most tries scored in a season by a Manly player with 28 this season. Garrick’s conversion attempt was unsuccessful, taking the score to 32-10.
Four minutes later, the Sea Eagles were in again through Garrick after another assist from Suli. His conversion attempt from the sideline was successful for a 32-16 scoreline.
The Rabbitohs sealed their victory with a try on the stroke of full time as Johnston dived over in the corner. Taaffe was unsuccessful with his conversion attempt from the sideline, bringing the final score to 36-16.