When Tom Trbojevic tore his pectoral muscle in the second State of Origin match, most thought it would be the end of Manly’s season. Little did they know it would actually end with his replacement starting a good old-fashioned kicking duel.
Reuben Garrick has had an outstanding season as Trbojevic’s replacement in the No.1, but an outstanding season doesn’t mean you’re immune to a moment of utter madness. Case in point: with his team locked in a 12-all skirmish with the title favourites, their season flickering, Garrick opted to return a Penrith kick immediately with one of his own, presumably for speedster Jason Saab.
It wasn’t as if we weren’t warned, because coach Anthony Seibold said they’d need to do something different to beat the Panthers. He confirmed after the game they’d practised the ploy. The only problem? Manly’s chase was so staggered and so poor that Sunia Turuva ended up with the ball and raced away to score. The Sea Eagles never got near Penrith after that.
“It was a plan,” Seibold said of the bizarre Garrick kick. “We couldn’t come here and just try and arm wrestle. We spoke about returning serve during the week and we practised it at training. One or two guys missed their job there, but we had to think outside the box.”
For a team that promised much earlier in the season, Seibold’s first year at Manly will end without finals, barring a miracle. It hasn’t been that bad, and many will admit they stayed in the finals fight longer than first thought when Trbojevic went down in sky blue. But they will need to win their last three games to be a chance, and even then it probably won’t be enough after a clinical Panthers clawed their way to a 24-12 win at 4 Pines Park on Thursday night, edging closer to another minor premiership.
The match will be remembered as a tale of two kicks, one Garrick’s audition to be Eddie Jones’ next recruit from rugby league, and a second from a man who no one really knows what to do with.
There are few more polarising figures in the NRL than Josh Schuster, a player who yo-yos from the astounding to absurd. It did not take even four minutes for him to show both, poaching an intercept from Nathan Cleary (who does that?) and then running 50 metres, nearly every step of the way looking for a helper. Brad Parker was the only man, yet even he resembled the Ford Laser on his last drips of fuel begging for the petrol station. So having run down field and the defence fast getting to him, what does Schuster do? He kicks the ball. On the first play. No Sea Eagle got near it.
Whether it was a good thing for him or not, his halves partner and captain Daly Cherry-Evans threw an intercept a few minutes later. Only this time it fell in the lap of a speedster, Stephen Crichton, who charged downfield to score. At least Schuster had a similarly red-faced mate.
Cherry-Evans would predictably atone by the end of the half, Schuster would not. The captain held up a beautiful pass for Garrick to score, giving the hosts a lead after Tof Sipley had earlier wrestled his way past four defenders for maybe the softest try Ivan Cleary’s team has conceded in four years.
Crichton’s second try levelled the scores 12-all at the break, but only after howls of protest from Manly fans who were convinced Liam Martin had knocked the ball on into Raymond Tuaimalo Vaega contesting a bomb on the play prior. They may have had a point.
“They’ve asked a lot of questions, played pretty freely and, and we had a lot to consider throughout that first half,” Cleary said. “But we were thinking properly. Respect to them, they played outstanding in the first half.”
If Manly fans had a point, Garrick did not. His bold call to return a kick with one of his own ended up with a shabby chase and Turuva streaking away to score. Yes, Manly’s case was not helped with Ben Trbojevic and Brad Parker leaving the field for concussion tests inside the first two minutes of the second period, which both would fail. Mainly, they didn’t help themselves after that. Kicking duels and all.
PENRITH PANTHERS 24 (Stephen Crichton 2, Sunia Turuva, Brian To’o tries; Nathan Cleary 4 goals) defeated MANLY SEA EAGLES 12 (Tof Sipley, Reuben Garrick tries; Garrick 2 goals) at 4 Pines Park. Referee: Gerard Sutton. Crowd: 10,102.
Stream the NRL Premiership 2023 live and free on 9Now.
Sports news, results and expert commentary. Sign up for our Sport newsletter.