A brain snap by Raiders centre Joey Leilua has proved costly for the Raiders as Manly, despite being down two players due to injury for much of the game, have continued their late-season surge towards the finals with a high-octane 18-14 win at GIO Stadium.
Manly were forced to reshuffle their side when Moses Suli (leg) and Joel Thompson (arm) failed to return to the field in the second half.
The Sea Eagles were able to grab control of the game in the 51st minute when Leilua was placed on report for hitting Rueben Garrick late as he scored a runaway try with the ensuing penalty making it an eight-point try. What should have been a 10-10 deadlock became a 12-10 Manly lead and they never trailed from that point on.
Manly fed off the confidence of the momentum swing despite 20,265 fans urging the Raiders home as they desperately tried to come from behind in the dying second only to fall short.
Manly's ill-discipline gave the home side plenty of attacking chances early, with three penalties including one at a scrum, seeing the Sea Eagles under attack.
Match: Raiders v Sea Eagles
Round 23 -
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
- Nine Network
- LIVE PASS
However, the Raiders' execution in attack was off the pace slightly early as the Green Machine misfired as they failed to build pressure.
A Daly Cherry-Evans 40/20 in the 14th minute looked to give the away side the best chance to attack all game, only to see a simple mistake from Api Koroisau release the pressure.
Jack Wighton appeared to open the scoring for Canberra off the back off a surging run to the line, only to be denied by the video referee as a desperate Cherry-Evans knocked the ball free.
The Raiders eventually opened the scoring in the 19th minute, with an excellent offload from Elliott Whitehead to Jarrod Croker making it 6-0.
Manly's woes were further compounded when the restart sailed beyond the dead-ball line before a mistake from Ryan Sutton cost the home side a chance to extend their lead.
Moses Suli limped off in the 24th minute after earlier going down in the game with an ankle injury while Rapana also came off for a head injury assessment.
Two penalties allowed the Sea Eagles to apply the blow torch to the home side only for Reuben Garrick to lose the ball as he was cut down in a try-saving tackle from Croker.
Manly's eighth penalty came with six minutes left in the half, with Croker taking the easy two points on offer to extend Canberra's lead to eight.
The Sea Eagles' bench looked even thinner just before the break with Joel Thompson going straight to the change rooms with a suspected broken forearm.
Garrick was gifted a shot on goal from right in front thanks to a penalty with the Manly winger narrowing the gap before a 43-metre penalty effort after the half-time siren made it 8-4 at the break.
Eight-point try to Garrick hands Manly the lead
The Raiders added another two early in the second half to reassert their converted-try lead.
A Jack Gosiewski intercept, supported by a flying Garrick, helped Manly grab back the ascendency with a 95-metre movement but it was the knees into Garrick's back as he scored from Leilua that proved crucial with Manly's eight-point try moving them to 12-10 ahead.
The Sea Eagles continued to dominate the momentum of the clash with penalties and mistakes piling up for the Raiders, who were forced to scramble in defence just to stay in touch with the visitors.
Manly came agonisingly close from extending their lead when Tom Trbojevic reached out to plant the ball down under heavy defensive pressure from the Raiders, only to lose control of the ball at the last moment.
However Jake Trbojevic crashed over next to the posts, just reward for their continued pressure as they skipped out to a vital eight-point lead with 11 minutes remaining.
The Raiders rose from the dead, after an off-load from Josh Papalii found Wighton who found his co-captain Croker who scored his second for the evening.
Croker's shot at goal hit the upright, forcing the home side into a simple equation of needing to score once more or rue a lost opportunity.
The try flicked the switch on the Raiders who suddenly looked like the side they have been for much of the season as they rode a wave of home support.
Wighton went agonisingly close to scoring in the 77th minute but Manly were able to scramble – despite a late sin-bin for Morgan Boyle – as the home side finished short.