Beachside bonanza as Marlins pip Souths in 80pt thriller

Photo: Adam MacDonald

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We’ve become used to the Intrust Super Shute Shield delivering a spectacle week after week, but the competition excelled itself with the feast on offer at Manly Oval last Saturday, with 80pts, eleven tries, and five yellow cards as Manly edged Southern Districts 41-39.

A crazy game that saw the lead change six times, a penalty try for both sides, and backs packing down a scrum, had racked up 53pts by half-time, with the visitor’s 29-24 in front. Four yellow cards after the break saw momentum continue to shift, with Souths hitting the lead by a point with under 10 minutes to go, before a late scrum penalty allowed Nic Holton to slot the match-winning kick, and claim the spoils for the Marlins.

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Decked out in bright pink socks and a fetching Joe Bananas’ style jersey for Ladies’ Day, the Marlins were out to impress with ball in hand from the off as well. But after a dominant opening five minutes where Souths barely got a touch and had their defence repeatedly stretched across the Village Green, the scoreboard remained intact.

A scrum penalty won on the edge of their own 22 finally alleviated the pressure for the visitor’s, allowing flyhalf Bayley Kuenzle to kick over halfway for a lineout. And when an overthrow evaded jumpers from both sides for Kuenzle to pounce, race through the line and feed De Wet Roos, the wily co-captain attracted three defenders in his wake before popping a delightful reverse pass for Apaola Tea Lama to run in the first try.

The sight of winger Alex Northam leaving the field through injury in the aftermath was a double-blow for the home side, Hutana Coffin on in his place. But the new arrival was straight into the thick of the action, producing an immediate riposte with a five-pointer from his first touch of the game.

A penalty for taking the man in the air gave Manly decent field position from which to strike, and with the forwards doing a decent job of holding back the advancing Souths’ line, the playmakers stepped into shift the point of focus to the opposite flank. Decoy runners and tidy hands down the line, then allowed Nic Holton and James Ohmsen to punish an overlap with the killer pass for Coffin to power over in the corner.

James Ohmsen_Manly v Souths_2019_AM

Manly fullback James Ohmsen on his way to the line for the Marlin’s second – Photo: Adam MacDonald

Holton struck an upright with his conversion attempt, no doubt distracted by the merriment taking place under the marquee just 15ft from his right ear. But the tone of the day had already been set – these teams were here to play footy.

A penalty from sharp-shooter Christian Kagiassis extended the Rebels lead on 14 minutes, after Manly were pinged for not releasing. But the advantage didn’t last long. Terrific work from Marlins no.8 Dan Alley at the breakdown forced a turnover, as Souths tried to run the restart kick receipt back out of their 22. And after the forwards had piled into open the door, quick hands down the line from Holton to Beaudein Waaka, gave Ohmsen the chance to step inside one defender, and somehow outmuscle three more to find the chalk.

Holton succeeded at the second attempt to edge the hosts in front 12-10. But an inability to maintain focus after scoring was becoming an unwanted pattern for both sides, and a searing line break from Kagiassis soon after, was only missing the support runners required to execute another try from halfway for Souths.

But they remained patient, picking and driving their way forward and working off the back of a couple of damaging carries from blindside James Hasson to get within five metres, before an offside penalty and a gimme 3pts was turned down and kicked to touch. That decision was immediately vindicated when the lineout was mauled infield, Roos fed Kuenzle, and the gun pivot spotted a lapse in Manly’s spacing to dart through and offload for Apo Latunipulu to go under the posts.

The see-sawing nature of the contest appeared to be broken when Souths claimed back-to-back tries before the half hour. Manly’s ill discipline was starting to stack up, and another penalty gave their opponent’s field position from a lineout on the edge of the 22. This time the ball was shifted straight to the halves for Kuenzle to feed Hasson, and the no.6 showed great instincts to run into traffic and offload one-handed for Latunipulu to burst through a hole and put Jake Jay away on his inside.

Kotoni Ale (Manly Captain) holds Apo Latunipulu.

Apo Latunipulu slides in for the Rebels – Photo: Malcolm Chuck

Now up 24-12, the game seemed to be under the Rebels’ control. However, in a scenario that must be frustrating head coach Don Mackinnon with its regularity, they switched off from the restart and were back under their own posts within two minutes.

Credit must go to Manly’s attack, who once again ploughed a furrow down one wing and sucked in Souths defenders, before switching it to the opposite flank via a looping pass from Holton for skipper Kotoni Ale to barrel over. But Souths were undoing all of their good work and execution at one end of the field, with lapses in concentration and a lack of application at the other.

Holton’s relationship with the right hand post was rekindled to leave Manly trailing 24-17, but momentum had suddenly swung back their way. It needed a terrific tackle from Kuenzle to halt Ben Cotton’s progress down the touchline after the restart. But when the Marlins went again and worked space for Waaka to stretch his legs and tear through the Rebels line, the lightning-fast centre was only felled by a high shot from Marcus Carbone, and the visitor’s co-captain was duly shown yellow.

Down a forward, Souths were now ripe for the picking just five metres from their own line when Manly called for a scrum. But the referee’s decision to award a penalty try instead of issue a warning as Souths buckled at the first attempt, seemed a tad harsh given the parity in the contest to that point.

With another five minutes to enjoy the man advantage before the break, Manly were in good position to retake the lead. But this crazy ole game was soon turned on its head again.

The catalyst was Christian Kagiassis. The Souths fullback is not exactly shy in the pace stakes himself when it comes to flat-line speed, and his return from a Harry Emery box-kick left several Manly jerseys in his wake before he fired it wide. And when the ball landed in the hands of the ubiquitous Latunipulu for another damaging run over halfway, he had his predatory no.15 in support to take the pass and blast his way to the corner.

29-24 to Souths at half-time then, and you wondered what more this breathless contest could bring in the second stanza. But it turned out there was plenty more where that came from.

Mokani Fuavao_Manly v Souths_2019_AM

Manly prop Mokani ‘Gunnz’ Fuavao surged towards the chalk – Photo: Adam MacDonald

Having failed to make any further inroads with Carbone in the bin before oranges, Manly returned from the sheds seemingly intent on making good on the advantage ahead of his reintroduction, and they caught the Rebels cold with a quick-fire double.

A scrum penalty on halfway in favour of the home side was played on by Emery, before Waratahs squad member Le Roux Roets used his bulk to take a few defenders with him towards the 22. From there a couple more carries from centre Kevin Fuavao – a welcome return from long-term injury – and veteran rake James Hilterbrand, softened the Souths line, before Holton dummied through a gap between two forwards, and had prop Mokani ‘Gunnz’ Fuavao off his shoulder for the try.

And Souths were in danger of implosion when a rare mistake from the otherwise excellent Latunipulu soon gifted Manly another, a wide pass picked off by the alert Waaka for an unhindered canter to the posts, and a 38-29 advantage.

Carbone had only just returned from purgatory when both sides lost a man, Roos and Marlins lock Alex Humfrey sent to the naughty chair for a disagreement on the floor. And when Dan Alley then joined seemingly the most popular seats in the house after slowing down Souths ball, the visitor’s had the chance to kickstart their second 40.

With Manly two forwards down, they did so understandably by targeting the scrum. The versatile Kagiassis stepped into the no.9 shoes in Roos’ absence. But he was only needed for the put-in as the Rebels marched forward before being illegally halted, and this time the resulting penalty try seemed an unavoidable outcome. That made it 38-36, and there were still 27 minutes to go!

The Rebels must have fancied their chances of a repeat scrum performance when Manly packed down for the next engagement with centre Kevin Fuavao at flanker, and winger Ben Cotton at no.8. But Manly were able to clear the ball quick-smart for Waaka to exit to touch, before the opposition pack could do any further damage.

Jake Douglas (Left Lock - Southern Districts) goes over Dan Alley (Number Eight - Manly)

Jake Douglas gave a trademark tireless performance in defeat for Souths – Photo: Malcolm Chuck

Both teams had only just returned to a full compliment, before Souths hooker Blake Schoupp joined the list of ‘cheese slice’ recipients after a high shot. But perhaps understandably given the madness of the first hour, things finally settled down with the game very much in the balance.

A double-team tackle from Manly held out Apaola Tea Lama as he went in search of a second in the 65th minute, before Emery and replacement Alex Dalzell also combined to thwart yet another robust surge from Latunipulu. But with chances now at a premium as both attacks became more measured in approach, and mindful of making the error that could cost the game, discipline would prove to be the difference.

It was advantage Southern Districts with nine to go, Manly captain Ale pinged for a high shot, and Kagiassis taking his personal tally to 17 for the day to edge his side in front by a point. But with Beaudein Waaka’s influence on the game growing with each involvement, the chances of the home side not getting a late shot at redemption seemed fanciful.

It duly arrived in the 75th minute, a knock-on from the visitor’s giving Manly the put in at the scrum. The twist in the tale for Souths was the game-ending injury incurred by loosehead Rodney Ma’a in the process. With Jake Kay shifting to hooker in Schoupp’s enforced absence, James Finch had come off the bench to play openside when the 10 minutes subsided. But Ma’a’s injury brought Schoupp back onto the no.1 spot, a position he has played previously.

Whatever the vagaries of the revamped Souths scrum, Manly definitely sniffed blood in the water and went in for the kill. And when the referee blew for a penalty with the Rebels skewered backwards, Nic Holton had a relatively simple, but nonetheless pressure kick, to win the match. He didn’t miss, Manly held on by the skin of their teeth for their third win of the season, and Souths’ unbeaten record was gone.

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MANLY 41 (Penalty Try, Hutana Coffin, James Ohmsen, Kotoni Ale, Mokani Fuavao, Beaudein Waaka tries; Nic Holton 3 cons, pen) defeated SOUTHERN DISTRICTS 39 (Penalty Try, Apaola Tea Lama, Apo Latunipulu, Jake Kay, Christian Kagiassis tries; Christian Kagiassis 3 cons, 2 pens) at Manly Oval. HT 24-29

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