Sea Eagles clinch golden point thriller
A Daly Cherry-Evans field goal in the first period of golden point extra-time has lifted Manly to a stunning 21-20 win over a Raiders side that was ravaged by injuries and reduced to 15 men early in the contest.
Extra-time always comes down to a moment, and unfortunately for Raiders prop Junior Paulo it was his error that gifted Manly field position, allowing the star halfback to slot the one-pointer to seal their second golden point win over the Green Machine in 2017.
The Raiders were dealt a couple of huge blows in the first half with big men Dunamis Lui and Shannon Boyd succumbing to knee injuries to leave the visitors undermanned for the final hour of the contest.
Manly took full advantage of the situation, repeatedly pinning Canberra in their own end with a series of penetrating kicks backed up by gut-busting chases that earned them a whopping six repeat sets.
The last time these sides met, Sea Eagles centre Dylan Walker played the role of villain as he baited the Raiders all game before breaking their hearts in extra-time with a long-range penalty goal to win the game.
It was fitting then that Walker opened the scoring on Sunday afternoon as he got on the outside of Jarrod Croker courtesy of a brilliant pass from Cherry-Evans to give Manly a 6-0 lead after five minutes.
The Sea Eagles continued to dominate proceedings but were stunned in the 16th minute when a Joseph Tapine offload sparked a Canberra raid down the right edge that ended up with Jordan Rapana passing inside for Blake Austin to score out wide.
It didn't take Manly long to reclaim the lead when powerhouse prop Martin Taupau smashed his way through a poor attempted tackle by Tapine to make it 12-6 after half an hour.
The home side's dominance was duly rewarded five minutes out from the break when winger Jorge Taufua touched down for his eighth try of the season before Walker brought the fans to their feet as he gathered a loose ball and then grubbered ahead to send Cherry-Evans for Manly's fourth try of the afternoon.
The Raiders simply had to be the first team to score in the second half and they didn't have to work too hard to do so as Joey Leilua took advantage of some diabolically-soft defence around the ruck to set up Rapana for a gift four points.
If Canberra thought they'd power their way to a comeback victory they were very much mistaken as a huge run by Addin Fonua-Blake got Manly back on the front foot before the home side upped the ante with a great kick chase to force a repeat set and then Taufua monstered Rapana to earn another line dropout.
That appeared to knock the stuffing out of the Raiders only for Rapana to produce something out of nothing with a 75-metre solo effort out of dummy-half that saw him ease past fullback Matt Wright to cut the gap to two points with 10 minutes to play.
The hosts then had the chance to put the game to bed but Fonua-Blake's claims for a try were turned down by the Bunker after they spotted an obstruction in the build-up.
The unscriptable contest took another stunning turn when Elliott Whitehead's match-winning effort was disallowed after the sideline official ruled Leilua's inventive offload had travelled forward.
Manly looked home and hosed when Jackson Hastings intercepted a pass with Canberra deep on the attack but there was time for one last sting in the tale when the Sea Eagles were penalised for holding down Jarrod Croker too long in the tackle.
Croker – who famously missed a penalty goal against the Wests Tigers in the 2010 finals that would have levelled the scores – showed incredible poise to convert the shot from 27 metres out near the sideline to send the game into extra-time before Cherry-Evans broke Raiders hearts with a typically clutch field goal to bring the Lottoland faithful to their feet.
Sea Eagles 21 (Dylan Walker, Martin Taupau, Jorge Taufua, Daly Cherry-Evans tries; Matthew Wright 2 goals; Daly Cherry-Evans field goal) def. Raiders 20 (Jordan Rapana 2, Blake Austin tries; Jarrod Croker 4 goals) in golden point at Lottoland. Half-time: 20-6. Crowd: 11,318.