Stuart proud of courageous Raiders
The Canberra Raiders had two options when they ran back onto Lottoland for the second half trailing the Sea Eagles 20-6.
The easy option was to throw in the towel and accept whatever came their way. With two big boppers sidelined with respective knee injuries, it seemed a tempting prospect.
Instead, the Green Machine dug deep and produced the sort of 40-minute performance that we've come to expect from Ricky Stuart's troops.
With their backs against the wall, the Raiders dominated the second stanza with Jordan Rapana's two-try haul and Jarrod Croker's clutch 80th-minute penalty goal enough to send the game into extra-time.
Momentum appeared to be with them as the golden point period began, but an error by prop Junior Paulo gifted the Sea Eagles field position which allowed Manly halfback Daly Cherry-Evans to slot the game-winning field goal.
Paulo's loose carry was a sad way to end the game given he had been one of the bravest performers with a staggering 72-minute contribution in the front row caused by early injuries to Dunamis Lui and Shannon Boyd.
It was Canberra's third golden point loss of the season and saw them drop out of the top eight at the halfway point of the year, but their coach was justifiably proud of the way they responded to adversity after the break.
"At half time it was a big job to get them going because they were disappointed in themselves," Stuart said.
"We had a choice to make, and we took the tough choice. I knew they would because they're a very, very courageous bunch and it's why I often say that I love coaching them.
"They're a courageous bunch of blokes but unfortunately we put ourselves in a very, very difficult position with that first-half performance and we paid for it in the end.
"We're nowhere near where we'll get to. We're nowhere near where we want to be, but for a committed bunch of footy players – for a courageous team – we showed a lot of mental strength.
"Manly at Brooky in front of a really big crowd is a daunting challenge and to be down by 20-6 and the way they came back they had to fight and fight and fight.
"Manly knew we were on the way back. As soon as we scored that first try in the second half, I knew from where I was sitting that we were confident we were going to get back into this game. To be able to say that is a good feeling knowing that you've got that in your team."
Raiders skipper Jarrod Croker refused to use the injuries as an excuse for the first-half capitulation, instead choosing to focus on some poor defensive efforts that allowed Manly to open up a commanding 14-point lead.
"I don't think our first half had too much to do with that," Croker replied when asked about his side's injury concerns.
"The first one there was my poor read, the second one was them running straight through us and then one was off a dropped ball. You're not going to help yourself with a couple of seven tackle sets and we had a few dropouts so it all just compounded in the first half.
"I think in the second half we showed more toughness with the 15 blokes so it was pretty pleasing. We know we've got it, but we just didn't get there."