Wests Tigers Intrust Super Premiership side have gone down 38-34 to the Manly Sea Eagles on Sunday in a game filled with controversy at Brookvale Oval.
Both sides saw plenty of key changes for the match at Brookvale Oval — the most notable of which being Robbie Farah (virus), who was ruled out of the contest before kickoff.
However, the biggest talking point of the game would be the sending off of Michael Chee Kam, who was dismissed in the final minute of the first half for abusing the touch judge.
That would prove costly for Paul Stringer’s side in their bid to secure a top four finish with a win — fighting on bravely with 12 men — before ultimately going down 38-34.
After a tight start to the match that saw both teams roll through their sets, a smart kick from Isaac John brought about the first repeat set of the afternoon after 11 minutes, which soon resulted in first points through Halaufu Lavaka in the far right corner.
John was unable to convert from out wide, leaving the score at 4-0 after 15 minutes.
Wests Tigers looked to hit back in the match with some classy movement in attack, but they were unable to land the killer blow as errors began to creep into the game.
Manly would soon take full advantage of those errors, with Peter Schuster grabbing the home side’s second try of the day as he fought his way through the right edge defence.
Dylan Kelly would convert to give the Sea Eagles at 10-0 lead after 30 minutes.
Stuck on their own line for most of the half, an intercept to Chance Peni would see Wests Tigers venture back into Manly territory, and soon get their first points of the day as Jackson Williams turned the ball inside for Watson Heleta to streak away and score.
Justin Hunt would convert the try from in front to make it 10-6 after 35 minutes.
As the half-time siren approached, the game would take a sensational turn when Chee Kam was ruled to have knocked the ball on despite the ball hitting him in the knees, with the centre’s ensusing comments to the touch judge seeing him sent from the field.
From the ensuing penalty, Manly would take advantage of an overlap down the right with Lavaka grabbing his second try as the siren sounded to make it 16-6 at the break.
Lavaka would complete his hat-trick shortly after the break as he again exploited the Wests Tigers’ left-edge defence to extend the home side’s lead to 22-6, and with a man advantage, it appeared that the Sea Eagles were going to run away with a big victory.
However, Wests Tigers weren’t going to go down without a fight and began to launch a stunning comeback — starting with a superb individual try to Hunt after 48 minutes.
The fullback converted his own try to cut the Sea Eagles’ lead to 22-12, and that margin would be reduced even further when Heleta crashed through the line for his second try of the day just two minutes later. Hunt’s conversion took the scoreline to 22-18.
Stringer’s side would sensationally take the lead in the 54th minute when a flat ball from Littlejohn found Curtis Sironen, with the back-rower proving far too strong for the Sea Eagles’ defensive line as he locked the scoreline up at 22-22. Hunt made no mistake with the conversion to give the visitors a stunning 24-22 lead with 22 minutes to play.
However, that lead would be short-lived as an intercept pass from Hunt was well-read by Pita Godinet, who raced away to give Manly a 26-24 lead after 60 minutes.
A controversial non-call from the referee following a high shot on Manaia Cherrington in front of the posts would be the final decisive moment in the game, with an intercept pass on the following play allowing Marlin Sini to streak away and end Wests Tigers’ run.
Fabian Goodall would crash over next to the posts to extend the Sea Eagles’ lead to 38-24 and again seemingly put the game to bed, but the game had one final twist left as first Jordan Grant and then Charlie Taylor grabbed tries in the final three minutes of play.
However, the visitors were unable to produce something from the following kickoff and score after the siren, with the Sea Eagles holding on to record a 38-34 victory.
ISP FULL TIME — Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 38 (Lavaka 3, Schuster, Godinet, Sini, Goodall tries; Kelly 5/6, John 0/1 goals) def. Wests Tigers 30 (Heleta 2, Hunt, Sironen, Grant, Taylor tries; Hunt 5/5 goals; Chee Kam sent off) at Brookvale Oval