Sea Eagles continue run to finals
The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles have kept their amazing late-season momentum rolling with a thrilling two-point victory over the Canberra Raiders at GIO Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
It was the magical duo of Daly Cherry-Evans and Brett Stewart who would strike the decisive blow with just two minutes left on the clock, delivering the Raiders their ninth home loss of the season and Manly their sixth victory from their last seven outings.
Two fortunate second-half tries looked like keeping the Raiders' finals hopes alive but it wouldn’t be enough as DCE broke through late in the game before finding the ever-present Stewart on the inside, breaking the hearts of the Raiders yet again with another tight home loss.
The Sea Eagles were first on the scoreboard, striking in just the fourth minute down their left attacking side.
Steve Matai was the beneficiary of some classy quick hands through Kieran Foran and a sweeping Stewart.
The Raiders looked like hitting back moments later when Josh Papalli crashed over before being quickly denied by a double movement call from the on-field referee.
Instead it would be the Sea Eagles to score next after a long passage of bruising and entertaining football.
Jarrod Croker was filthy on himself for missing Jamie Lyon close to the line, allowing the classy centre a simple try down the right side.
And Lyon would break the the Raiders' left-edge defence open once again just moments later as he turned creator, putting Justin Horo through a gaping hole.
As always Stewart was supporting through the inside, scoring his 161st try to take the Sea Eagles' advantage out to 16-nil.
A brilliant pass out of dummy-half by Josh Hodgson finally got the Raiders on the scoreboard with four minutes left in the half, the crafty Englishman finding a charging Paul Vaughan near the line.
Vaughan's fourth of the season continued a streak of front-rower tries for the Green Machine as both Vaughan and Shannon Boyd have crossed for doubles over the past three weeks.
The first half finished in spectacular fashion as Lyon looked to be over for his second before spilling the ball across the line at the final moment.
Jake Trbojevic had to be assisted off the field immediately after resumption after a second head knock, a loss that left the Sea Eagles extremely stretched in the front-row department for the remainder of the second half.
But a more important blow would be struck moments later by an amazing 80 metre intercept try that turned the match on its head.
For the second time in three weeks it was Edrick Lee racing away following a period of sustained pressure on the Raiders line by the Sea Eagles.
If Lee hadn't have snuffed out the Manly backline movement it could have been 22-8 to the men from the northern beaches, instead Lee's solo effort brought the game to 16-14.
And Canberra wouldn't stop their surge there, Blake Austin beating five defenders with a remarkable run to set the game alight in the 58th minute, scoring the 14th try of his amazing season to give the Raiders their first lead of the match.
The bearded playmaker stepped, spun and fended through hapless defenders to race away 30 metres and score under the posts, giving the Raiders a 20-16 point lead.
The Raiders scored perhaps their most fortunate try of the season in the 67th minute after a perfectly-placed Sam Williams kick somehow stayed within the field of play despite the prayers of Stewart at the back.
The Prince of Brookvale rarely makes mistakes but on this occasion he should have made a play at the ball, instead Croker cleaned up the scraps before finding Kennedy on the inside to extend the Raiders' advantage out to 24-16.
But the Sea Eagles would immediately strike back, Lyon once again crossing down the right sideline to bring the Sea Eagles back within four points, after a loose offload found the ground near the try line.
A tight forward pass call against Matt Ballin with the Sea Eagles in great attacking position denied the Manly side a great attacking chance late in the piece.
But they would have one final opportunity.
In their last attacking set Feleti Mateo found Jesse-Sene Lefano in space who offloaded to Cherry-Evans.
Breaking through the middle of the field the classy halfback then linked up with Stewart who scored adjacent to the posts, Lyon's subsequent conversion giving the Sea Eagles their winning two point advantage.
Mitch Barnett was placed on report in the 10th minute for a high shot on Jake Trbojevic.
Jorge Taufua was also placed on report for a shoulder charge on Jack Wighton in the 23rd minute.
Vaughan sustained a serious leg injury late in the piece, while referee David Munroe was also forced from the field with a torn calf.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 26 (Brett Stewart, Jamie Lyon 2, Steve Matai tries; Jamie Lyon 3 goals) defeated Canberra Raiders 24 (Paul Vaughan, Edrick Lee, Blake Austin, Jarrad Kennedy tries; Jarrod Croker 4 goals) at GIO Stadium. Crowd: 13,113