Funa caps dream Manly NYC season
He was the form player of the Holden Cup in the first two rounds before injury struck him down, and fittingly it was Tevita Funa who landed the 80th-minute conversion to seal Manly's thrilling 20-18 in a pulsating NYC grand final.
After Parramatta shot out to an early 14-0 lead on Sunday, Funa steadied things with a crucial four-pointer to get Manly on the board before the Sea Eagles struck twice more to level the scores early in the second stanza.
The Eels looked to have stolen it late when unstoppable winger Greg Leleisiuao scored untouched in the corner, but as they've done all finals series Manly found a way to upset their more fancied rivals with a try at the death to Keith Titmuss to draw level.
That left Funa with a simple conversion to win it after the siren, although nothing is easy when you have a premiership riding on the outcome of the conversion.
It brought back memories of Kyle Feldt's missed kick in the 2011 grand final that would have won the Cowboys the game in regulation, only for North Queensland to lose it in extra-time on the back of a Warriors field goal.
"It was quite a nerve-racking moment but I was quite confident that I would kick it," Funa told NRL.com after the game.
"I sprayed my first kick because the crowd was in my head as I was about to kick it and it was the same thing with the sideline conversion that I missed. I was just really focussed and tried to zone them out with the final kick and it worked.
"It was easily the biggest crowd that I've played in front of and I want to thank them for coming out to support us because we could definitely hear them out there. Even when I was lining up that shot, I could hear the pocket of Manly fans cheering me on and it did a lot for my confidence.
"It might have looked like a really easy kick but that's the angle that makes kickers uncomfortable because they know they should get it but it's always so much harder with the added pressure."
It could have been a much tougher ask for Funa had winger Bilal Maarbani regathered his own chip kick with three minutes to go.
Instead, Eels fullback Anthony Layoun charged the kick down, gifting Manly a scrum from close range which they duly turned into points through Titmuss.
"I thought my winger was going to score down the sideline but luckily he didn't because it meant I didn't have to kick from out wide again," a relieved Funa said.
"I would have backed myself but it was a lot easier from in front."
Funa is considered one of the best centres coming through the grades but hasn't been able to play to his potential after suffering a serious knee injury in the Round 3 loss to North Queensland.
It was a cruel blow given his form in the first fortnight of the season, and while Funa concedes he's nowhere near his best at the moment he believes a productive pre-season will have him primed for a huge 2018 as Manly sweat on the fitness of the injured Dylan Walker.
"I dislocated my patella against the Cowboys up in Townsville. Someone just landed on my knee awkwardly and my kneecap popped out. Physically it was tough to come back from but mentally it was tougher," he said.
"In the back of my head I was worried that I would re-injure it because once you damage your kneecap, they tend to get hurt again.
"I'm nowhere near my best now so that's why I'm really looking forward to the pre-season. I want to get my body back to where it should be and then I can show people what I'm capable of."