Sea Eagles v Rabbitohs: Five key points
The Rabbitohs almost blew a 16-0 lead, while the Sea Eagles just couldn't take the ascendancy in a real Round 5 arm wrestle at Brookvale Oval. Here are five talking points from the game.
Manly's new halves were mostly good and will get better
With just one 20-minute session together at the captain's run on a reduced training week due to a five-day turnaround, Api Koroisau and Dylan Walker were never going to gel instantly – despite the fact they played together at Souths previously.
Koroisau is a hooker and Walker was a centre then but the two devastating ball-runners showed plenty of great touches as their side came back from a 16-0 deficit early to nearly snatch victory. Koroisau and Walker scored the two tries, the former achieving the rare feat of earning the man of the match award despite being on the losing team.
"The longer the game went the better our halves got; it was obviously their first game together and I thought we were probably the better side for an hour and just couldn't ice it at the end," Manly coach Trent Barrett said of the new combination.
He did acknowledge some more finesse in last play options would be a focus at training after some costly kicks against Souths.
"That's something we really need to work on is our last plays, particularly at the start of the game but again it's hard for me to go in there and get up our halves for their kicking with what they're going through and what we've had to do. They'll get better and Api won man of the match, it's pretty admirable what he did," he said.
Other Sea Eagles options are thin on the ground
Barrett also revealed reserve half Isaac John is still struggling in his comeback from a hamstring strain and indicated Koroisau would continue to partner Walker until Daly Cherry-Evans returns in about a month.
"I think Api showed enough that he can [handle it]. Isaac John came back through reserve grade last week but wasn't right, he was off a hamstring and struggled a little bit with his hammy to get through that game," Barrett said.
"Api I thought showed some real promise and I've got faith in him and Dylan. He had some really good touches as well, he's a terrific runner of the ball. We'll get there."
In brighter injury news, Barrett said he believed the knee issue that forced young workhorse Jake Trbojevic to pull out of the game wouldn't force him to miss next week's trip to face the Warriors.
Burgess brave on return
Sam Burgess is on record as saying he was nervous about how he'd go returning from a frightening neck injury a fortnight ago but with the game going down to the wire, Burgess put in a typically brave 80-minute effort. His 30 tackles and 119 metres were a relatively unspectacular return by his lofty standards but you got the feeling even having the big Yorkshireman on the paddock helped give Souths the belief to close out a match they gave themselves every chance to lose.
"He's got plenty of work that he'll do but I thought the courage he showed, there were many times where he was absolutely gone but that's what it means to him and his teammates and why he went on and played the 80 minutes," his coach Michael Maguire said after the game.
Maguire unhappy with letting the pressure off
When Souths were rollicking through Manly's defensive line at will and charging to a point-a-minute 16-0 lead, plenty were wondering just how big the cricket score was going to be against Barrett's men. It's a credit to their own desire they were able to turn things around on limited preparation but Maguire said his side can't afford not to capitalise on those situations.
"To start like that then not go on with it, they're things we've got to look at. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, there were obviously calls in the second half which went against us from being offside at certain times with a few kicks but the players stuck by each other and got the win," Maguire said.
"There was a time there in the second half I think they had 65, 70 per cent of possession for long, long periods of time so the character of the team, I'm very proud of how they showed the effort for each other and how they got up. Obviously there's a lot we have to look at in that game."
Maguire also unhappy with missed offside
With Manly having clawed back to 16-12 and chasing an unlikely win late in the piece, the home side was heaping pressure on the Bunnies and were able to force a few repeat sets. One of those came when hooker Matt Parcell chased through a Koroisau grubber to force a drop out, although it appeared the former Ipswich Jet was offside.
Souths skipper Greg Inglis protested his case to no avail and his side, though being forced to drop out, were able to hold on, to the relief of Maguire. Clearly with something to get off his chest, he diverted an unrelated question in the press conference about coming up against former Rabbitohs Walker and Koroisau back to the offside call.
"I look at some of the calls there in that second half, you wonder how that information doesn't get to the refs, whether someone's offside or onside," Maguire said, suggesting the bunker should have intervened.
"Certain things are happening throughout the game, those are turning points in the game, especially a game like that. Obviously our players were able to pull out the other end but those things need to be looked at."