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A GOOD-SIZED crowd at one of the best footy grounds in the country saw a tight, entertaining tussle between two sides who’ll give the finals series a shake.

Ultimately the Titans took the two points following a refereeing decision that has the talking heads yapping, something they’ll likely do all week. It was a brave call by Matt Cecchin. But a very tough one on Manly.

Either way, they could have played another 80 minutes and there’d have been a point or so in it. Both teams played pretty well, it’s just that the Titans will be happier about it.

The Game Swung When… It’s the 79th minute, his team down by one point, 20 metres from the Manly line, Preston Campbell rolled the dice. He took off from dummy-half, grubbered ahead and chased. He soccered the ball off the ground and chased again. And he did it again. Then Mat Orford came from the clouds and dived on the ball, taking Campbell’s legs out from under him and... penalty! And Orford was bereft. And rightly so. He was going for the ball. He got the ball. The contact was incidental. And the Sea Eagles’ fans were left feeling robbed.

That said, they should have had this game wrapped up several times.

In the 74th minute Orford dropped a goal that should have won his team the game. They butchered two or three attacking opportunities after it, most notably when Jamie Lyon dropped a Glenn Stewart pass that would have won his team the game.

And then Campbell rolled his dice.

Who Was Hot… Mat Rogers stepped beautifully off both feet and scored a nice try.

Luke Bailey ploughed the pill up the middle time and again (21 runs, 166 metres), as he’s done for several fine seasons.

Scott Prince’s kicking game was typically precise and he set up a try.

Anthony Laffranchi was the Titans’ best with 49 tackles and 143 metres in 20 runs.

Nathan Friend was typically work-a-holic in defence with 48 tackles. Also looked sharp and provided slick service to his runners.

Similarly, Manly no.9 Matt Ballin was light on his feet and carried the ball in two hands, providing good options for his runners and causing the Titans to hang off.

Orford had a great game. He ran strongly, scored a fine try, broke the line twice and kicked what should have been the match-winning field goal. He could probably run a bit more, Orford, he’s a strong little nugget.

Chris Bailey ran at the line and fed his outside backs nicely.

Michael Robertson looked good on his feet and had a good winger’s game.

Who Was Not… Titans wing William Zillman was forced to go up for a bomb and decided not to go for it while in the air. That’s not easy to do.

Manly got plenty of good field position in the second half through their forwards, but didn’t take good options on latter tackles and convert said position. Dud grubbers, bad options and tough Titans defence. And Tony Williams dropped the ball over the line.

Manly should have won this game. Nuff said.

Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Williams on Manly’s wing looks like former Kiwi bopper Tony Iro morphed with former Kiwi bopper Kevin Iro. Twenty years old, 195cm and 113kg – that is a large unit in any denomination.

In the 30th minute Friend caught the ball after it ricocheted off Ballin, then with ball under his arm, waved to the referee it should be six-to-go. But it was more of a wave “hello” rather than a refereeing signal. And it was a bit funny.

Some great play by Prince in the first stanza, from well inside his own half. A chip kick! And he should be applauded for it. That it hit Anthony Watmough in the face and almost caused Manly to score should be immaterial. Because Adventure is Good. Inspired by his skipper, Esi Tonga tried one minutes later. Went out on the full. Still – good to see them having a crack.

Bad Boys… Alas, Sea Eagles back-rower Glenn Stewart was hit with a dangerous throw charge that will see him sit out Origin unless he contests the matter. Ouch. And team-mate Jason King copped a grapple charge – but he’ll be free to play with an early guilty plea.

Refs Watch… In the 79th minute, said monster call by Matt Cecchin. It was a very, very tough call on Orford. And the Sea Eagles fans.

Oh, and please. Please, please, please. There is “rule” in rugby league and it’s called the “knock-back”. Early in the second half Campbell was bringing the ball back when inexplicably the ball fell out of his arms. Backwards. Behind him. He regathered the ball. But no. Knock-on. What is it with referees that the benefit of any doubt goes to the defending side? Why can’t you drop the ball backwards?

Touch judge Gavin Reynolds called Chris Walker’s foot in touch when it was not. It was in touch after he’d kicked it. Not before. Otherwise, the refs handled this pretty well, particularly Tony Archer, the game’s best. Best & Fairest… 3 points – Anthony Laffranchi (Titans): A workhorse effort from a fine second-rower; 2 points – Luke Bailey (Titans): Ran the ball up hard, tackled the same; 1 point – Mat Orford (Sea Eagles): Most of Manly’s good things came from his hands and feet.

Titans 18 (M Rogers, K Gordon, A Harrison tries; S Prince 3 goals) def Sea Eagles 17 (T Williams, C Bailey, M Orford tries; J Lyon 2 goals; M Orford 1 field goal) at Skilled Park. Crowd: 16,126.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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