After watching Tom Trbojevic score a miraculous solo try and finish possibly the best team effort of 2021 to help Manly cement fourth spot, coach Des Hasler declared: “There is enough points in this team to trouble anyone”.
Manly set up a finals clash with Melbourne after overpowering North Queensland 46-18 with a razzle-dazzle performance highlighted by a hat-trick of Trbojevic tries and Reuben Garrick breaking the record for the most regular season points.
Garrick, who started a spectacular 110-metre movement finished by Trbojevic after the full-time siren, eclipsed Hazem El Masri’s 2004 tally of 288 points and also became the first player to score more than 300 points in a regular season.
However, Trbojevic was again the most influential player on the field and he beat nine Cowboys defenders to score his second try in the 75th minute, while laying on the first of brother Jake’s two tries and another for Daly Cherry-Evans.
Match: Cowboys v Sea Eagles
Round 25 -
Venue: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
The feat left him with a remarkable 25 tries and 30 try assists in 15 matches for Manly this season, and is almost certain to earn the superstar fullback the Dally M award as the NRL’s player of the year.
More importantly, his presence has coincided with the Sea Eagles rise from last spot after losing their first five matches to a top four finish and guaranteed second chance if beaten by the Storm next weekend.
“If you had told me after four rounds that we would be in the top four at the end of the year I would have laughed at you,” Jake Trbojevic told Fox League at full-time.
It is Tom Trbojevic's world, we are just living in it!
“On the back of last year, we started really poor. We were down in confidence and then with a few wins we got a bit of belief and everyone just started playing good footy. Obviously, Tom coming back was nice. It was no coincidence.”
The Sea Eagles led Melbourne until midway through the first half of their round 21 clash before going down 28-16 and Hasler said there were areas he had identified for them to improve.
“We just couldn’t execute on the night, that’s what it comes down to, but there is enough experience and enough points in this team to trouble anyone,” Hasler said.
“It is only the beginning so we get ready and gear up for Melbourne. It will be a real challenge. They are the minor premiers, they are a great side and they have got plenty of experience so it will be a good contest."
The final scoreline didn’t reflect how hard the Cowboys had pushed Manly, with the Sea Eagles only leading 28-18 in the 70th minute.
Manly finish in pure style
Manly also scored two tries in the final three minutes of the first half to go to the interval with an 18-6 lead after Cherry-Evans and veteran five-eighth Kieran Foran combined to send Tom Trbojevic racing through the middle of the ruck.
The Cowboys had led 6-0 after teenage speedster Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow picked up a loose ball and sprinted 95 metres to the tryline in the third minute before limping off with a hamstring injury soon after.
Manly winger Jason Saab, whose top speed of 38kph is the second fastest recorded this season behind Josh Addo-Carr (38.1kph), appeared set to run Tabuai-Fidow down but the Queensland Origin star fended him off before crossing to score.
Saab, who scored Manly's first try, managed to chase down centre Murray Tualagi after he intercepted a Cherry-Evans pass 15 metres out from the North Queensland try line in the second half.
The match also featured a stunning piece of athleticism from Sea Eagles second-rower Haumole Olakau’atu to stop a Cherry-Evans grubber going dead and bat the ball back into the in-goal for Jake Trbojevic to dive on and score.
A try worthy of breaking a 57-game drought
With the Cowboys having narrowed Manly's lead to 24-18 when Ben Condon scored in the 63rd minute, the Sea Eagles were forced to produce something special and they didn't disappoint.
Garrick scored in the 70th minute when he latched on to a Cherry-Evans cross-field kick at pace and Tom Trbojevic then stepped his way through nine defenders to grab his second try five minutes before full-time.
Cherry-Evans crossed in the 78th minute after backing up a break by Tom Trbojevic before turning provider for the star fullback’s third try in the last play off the game to finish a 110-metre movement started by Garrick in his own in-goal.
“They kicked the ball and I thought Reuben was just going to kick it dead so I started high fiving all the boys saying good win and then all of a sudden he has taken off and everyone has got on the back of it," Tom Trbojevic said. "I was lucky enough to get the final kick off Cherry."