What we learned from Canberra's 26-19 win over Manly at Albury in Round 5.
Has Ricky Stuart found a halves pair he can stick with?
With Sam Williams coming into the Raiders side for Mitch Cornish, Ricky Stuart has now used 43 different halves in his coaching career. But the combination of Williams and Blake Austin could be one for Stuart to stick with after their composed display against highly-rated opposite numbers Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran.
Austin was always scheming in attack. He scored a try through some good back-up play before setting one up for Jarrad Kennedy with a short ball close to the line. In defence, the Raiders No.6 put his body, or rather his face, on the line when he made a try-saving hit on Manly winger Cheyse Blair seven minutes before half-time. Austin denied Blair again in the second half, holding the Sea Eagles winger up over the line after a Cherry-Evans bomb.
"He put himself out there. That's what I liked was his defence – it was tough. We all know he's a good attacker, we've been working hard on his defence. Today he aimed up and did a good job," Stuart said of Austin after the game.
Williams was just as important in steering the Raiders to their second win of the season. His kicking into Manly's right corner was accurate all game, and his cross-field kick to their left set up Jordan Rapana's try just before half-time. Williams snapped a field goal to make the margin 19 points at the end of the first half and put in a well-weighted grubber kick for Jarrod Croker to score in the second.
"Sammy was so important to the team today. He gave us a lot of direction and his kicking game was outstanding. If you have a good kicking game you are defending where you want to defend and putting the opposition on the back foot," Stuart said of Williams' performance.
Debutant Trbojevic a silver lining for Manly
It was ironic that the junior from Mona Vale Raiders made his top-grade debut against Canberra, but Tom Trbojevic was a shining light for the Sea Eagles.
He scored a try with his first touch in first grade. With his second touch he leapt high to skilfully diffuse a bomb. He scored again on the hour mark and made a game-high 24 runs for 200 metres. Manly legend John Gibbs says Trbojevic is the best young talent he's seen from the northern beaches, and if Brett Stewart is selected as NSW fullback, Geoff Toovey has a ready-made replacement at No.1.
"I thought he was really good. He brought some youthful enthusiasm. His stats will be right up there and he tried his butt off," Toovey said of Trbojevic.
Such is the faith that Manly have in Trbojevic that he was even given the kick-off duties. It was just a shame for the Sea Eagles that he had to kick off seven times in the match.
Injuries are hitting Manly hard
Coach Geoff Toovey didn't use his club's mounting injury toll as an excuse for the loss to Canberra, but no investigation is needed to see that the Sea Eagles are suffering. In both attack and defence, the experience of centres Jamie Lyon and Steve Matai was sorely missed – as was their leadership and organisation. Throw in the absences of Brenton Lawrence, Josh Starling, Feleti Mateo, Blake Leary and Jorge Tafua and you can understand the lack of direction the Sea Eagles displayed in Albury. Take nothing away from the Raiders – they wanted it more – but Manly were flat and had no answers.
Hooker Hodgson rising for Raiders
English recruit Josh Hodgson is starting to be a real threat for the Raiders as he quickly settles into life in the Telstra Premiership. The former Hull Kingston Rovers star was busy in attack with some incisive dummy-half runs, good support play, and being there to receive offloads from his forwards. Hodgson put on a try for Blake Austin in the first half before executing a brilliant 40/20 kick after his side had been under pressure early in the second half.
The England rake has been averaging just under 60 minutes per game so far this season, but his performances could see coach Ricky Stuart using him as an 80-minute man as his transition from Super League to the NRL continues.
Road woes continue for Manly
Including their two finals at Allianz Stadium in 2014 and the game in Albury today, Manly have lost seven out of their last eight games played away from Brookvale Oval.
It was Manly's choice to take their home game away from the northern beaches and down to Lavington Sports Ground, even before the controversy over the Brookvale playing surface arose.
Early points have also been an issue for Manly. After putting on 24 points in the first half against the Storm in Round 2, the Sea Eagles only scored four points in the first half against Bulldogs, were held to nil at half-time against the Dragons, and only scored one first-half try against the Raiders in Albury.
"We need to turn things around quickly. We started poorly last week and it's the same tonight. We've just got to start better," Toovey said.
"We can't afford to commit simple mistakes. In saying that I thought we still had opportunities to keep them out but we were unable to.
"No excuses – they had more energy than us with the ball and in defence."