Stunning Dragons finish ends Manly comeback
A terrific Manly comeback from 15-0 nil down wasn't enough to stop the Dragons stealing a stunning win in the dying seconds – their first ever win in the format after losing all three matches at last year's Auckland Nines.
After a sloppy opening Daly Cherry-Evans looked to have created a try with a clever run-around play but his final pass floated over his winger into touch with the tryline begging.
It cost the Sea Eagles when, seconds later, flying Fijian Eto Nabuli produced his second powerful long-range run of the day. He flung the ball back in over his head when the defence caught him and the ball ended up with Josh Dugan, who opened the game's scoring with a bonus zone try.
A clever short grubber restart from Benji Marshall earned his team possession and an equally clever cross-field chip from highly-rated young half Shannon Crook was latched onto by Joel Thompson.
Another highly-rated youngster, centre Kiti Glymin, made it 15-0 nil shortly after when he raced through to ground yet another quality kick from Crook.
With the match slipping away, Peta Hiku scored a crucial try right before half time, showing great hands to reel in a flat pass and make it 15-4 at the break.
Nabuli continued his fine tournament after the resumption, finding himself on the end of passing shift to his left wing with no-one in front of him to make it 19-4.
Manly's Tom Trbojevic scored his second try of the day to keep it interesting at 19-10, and Cherry-Evans was then able to force a drop-out with his restart allowing Jayden Hodges to crash over and put the Sea Eagles right back in contention at 19-14 with four minutes to play.
Manly were again able to reclaim possession from the restart and finished the set by forcing another drop-out. The pressure told when Dunamis Lui landed on a grubber in the bonus zone, allowing Manly to amazingly hit the lead, 21-19, with two minutes left.
But there was another twist, with the Dragons racing downfield and stealing the lead back with Nabuli capping his outstanding match by scoring the match-winner in the corner.
Veteran Dragons winger Jason Nightingale said he always gave his side a chance, despite the Sea Eagles' fast finish.
"I didn't think it was over [when Manly scored late to take the lead], Nines is a fast form of the game and leads are easy to squander, as we did," Nightingale said.
"But it's a great achievement to come back and win that game. We had a couple of big plays at the end, but I think we could have made it easier on ourselves if we had managed things differently in the middle of the second half."