The match of the season was finally here. Mates v hates in front of a Brookie sell out. Would we stand and deliver when it counted?
You only had to enter the ground to feel the huge occasion with the packed hill a sight to behold. This was the pivotal game of the season where we just had to make our mark and the artillery had to come from up front. King, Kite, Rose and Guluvao would need to play the games of their lives in an epic Brookie battle against the in form Dog pack.
From the get go the pace was intense and the hits were huge. We dominated the opening exchanges and looked to show the Dogs they were in for one hell of a battle. But football games have a strange way of creating unexpected plots, and in just the 9th minute our stand in fullback Whare, who's been a wonderfully safe replacement for Brett, made a simple and fatal rookie mistake. Cleaning up a dangerous ball metres from our line, his split second decision to not head safely in field was punished as the Dogs bundled him to the touch line. That would have been enough of a blow, but Whare inexplicably panicked tossing the ball infield to thin air, only to see the 2012 freak Barba snatch a gut wrenching gift of a try. 6-0. An early blow that pray to god would not be a game decider.
A fired up King put a hit on Kasiano that ko'd him straight up the tunnel with a broken cheek bone. One weapon down with karma having a nice early say (can you imagine the likes of Matai getting off that charge last week?) 15 mins in and just as it seemed Wolfman had safely snatched a high ball he too made a fatal error. Again instead of bunkering down infield his enthusiasm to turn a safe catch into metres proved disastrous as he allowed his too upright body to be shunted to the sideline. From nothing the Dogs had an attacking scrum and immediately inflicted a clever dose of poison. Instead of playing out the set they stunned us with a pin point kick on tackle one straight out to Perret to steal another 6 points.
12-0 down and the huge crowd were eerily quiet, the scoreboard silencing the earlier raucous support. The Dogs were suddenly down to 15 when Keating pulled a hammy but it only signalled them to get even tougher with fortress like defence, inspired of course by the man who built the very notion on this soil.
We had our attacking chances but where was our famed attacking structure? Sure the defence was brilliant, but we seemed to have little imagination to keep it guessing. Our once well rehearsed sweeping moves seemingly replaced with sideways ad lib mess. Brett's absent pace more than agonisingly obvious.
It may have only been 12 point half time deficit, but we'd need to pull out something extra special in attack to get through this Dog wall.
Still silenced by the 12-0 shut out the huge crowd went further into their shell when a penalty 2 mins in saw the Dogs take the obvious 2 point gift. 12-0 was a concern, but 14-0 suddenly seemed a way bigger hurdle against, dammit, this Hasler invented fortress.
Perhaps a bit of luck was all we needed to kick start a comeback, and the wish was granted when Barba inexplicably left an in goal grubber idle, only to be stunned by the Lyon roaring to pounce on it. An inspirational captains play if ever there was one to cancel out the Whare howler.
Suddenly their was hope. Real hope. And the silenced crowd was now back in full volume. Just 9 minutes later the game exploded when King roared onto a neat short ball to crash through the kennel gates. 14-12, finally the epic we'd come for was fully on.
Suddenly the momentum had swung. The Brookie faithful were being rewarded with the chance they'd craved to scream themselves hoarse and bring home the result of the year. The big bonus too was that we weren't down to a lottery like 7-8 minutes, we had an ample 20 minutes to build the platform and convert attacking structure into match winning points. This was ours to take.
The Manly chants echoed across the field, but again our once famed attacking structure looked ragged. Each time DCE scooted right looking for the Glenn/Lyon/Wolfie combo there was little penetration. The Dogs in your face defence might have been skilfully shutting down our right hand chances, but for once we were boasting the return of an arguably even more potent left side ace with Foran/T Rex/Matai/Taufau, and it was this side that needed to ignite the scoreboard. Foran tried his guts out as always (the pretty locks presumably gone in the hope of buzz cut anger) but the left hand engine was misfiring. Time and again sideway plays and 'what do I do now who wants the ball' moments stifled any threat to the Dogs right edge.
T Rex propped, stopped and bobbed around like a giant harmless puppy, barely working up enough anger to do more than playfully push a few smaller foes, never seeming to posses the killer intensity to carve the desperately needed path of destruction. 17,000 die hards were screaming, willing and praying for the giant to run onto the ball at maximum speed and power to decimate the Dogs right edge and give Matai and Taufua the chance to use their speed, but nothing ever eventuated. Once again a match winning weapon going to waste. Why Toov's why?
As the time ticked down our hopes began to evaporate. The well rehearsed match winning attacking structures were as painfully absent as our superstar fullback.
The Dogs were denied one knock out blow, but the second chance came from the man of the year Barba when his 78th minute back yard grubber magically rebounded off the upright into his arms to rub 17,000 tonnes of god's country salt in our eyes. Just when we'd all prayed for a Brookie miracle, the little genius snatched the dream away just like that. The final score of 20-12 in reality a tad flattering given a 2 point result was probably the fairer indication.
A brutal yet strange game in many respects. The Dogs clearly the better in the first half, yet for much of the second Manly inching ahead everywhere except on the board. Ultimately the Dogs defence outshining the Manly misfiring attack, with the tries that did ensue almost a by play given 3 of them came from fluke chances.
The final result perhaps showing why one team will be a huge force for the title, with the other showing why they might just come up short this time round on the back of missing too many stars for way, way too much of the season. Would we have won with Brett out there? We'll never know, but you can almost guarantee we would have scored more than 12 points, and perhaps conceded 6 less too.
Therein perhaps lies the difference in a highly anticipated and much hoped for finals re match. If that is, we win enough remaining games to get there.
Dean Whare: Again did his best but ultimately instead of being able to stake his own qualities the superstar we missed was the real story.
Jorge Taufau: Little opportunity again, see left side attack problems.
Steve Matai: May sound a tough mark but surely this was a game where more was needed from Stevie.
Jamie Lyon: Never a bad game but stifled in attack for much of it, nonetheless a superb job of cancelling out the hugely dangerous Morris.
David Williams: To win a game like this there had to be a Wolfman try somewhere. Sadly nothing.
Keiran Foran: Somethings missing from the 2011 model but what is it? Full fitness, lack of matches, marked more heavily?
Daly Cherry-Evans: Dancing across field often ignites our right side weapons, but not with defence like this. Better days ahead are needed very soon.
Glenn Stewart: Not for lack of effort but was simply not 100% fit or just expertly shut down?
Tony Williams: The destructor who formally won us games once again the harmless labrador just out there playing around. Toovs?
Anthony Watmough: Worked his guts out but never seems to have space with the ball these days.
Jason King: Love his never take a backwards step effort but ultimately the lack of metres speak loudly.
Matt Ballin: One of our best in many aspects. Another brutal 55 tackles and well some sparked dummy half runs (but does anyone know why the 9 min 2nd half rest?).
Brent Kite: Tried hard but like most weeks again made next to no impact when you look at the opposition metres.
Jamie Buhrer: Not really a lot he can do in 20 minutes, especially with 9 of them strangely giving Ballin a rare rest.
Joe Guluvao: Time about up? Think so. Just not the impact and at this stage of his career probably understandable.
Darcy Lussick: Another Warea-Hargreaves? Looks sort of scary but ultimately a long way short of the dominating force we so badly need in the forwards.
George Rose: 13 minutes = zero impact in a game when he needed 100 plus metres.
Frustratingly not that far away from what could have been an epic win, and with Brett on the park would have been all the more probable. If we can keep our top squad there's still hope.
Try as they might our lack of engine room metres is really hurting our season, and perhaps inter linked with that our oddly misfiring attack of late. The ref's? Yep they made a few very poor calls tonight including Reynolds taking an Italian dive, and this obsession of bantering with each other about which player they are going to ping is infuriating, but can we honestly count that as a reason to have lost? With respect probably best to concentrate on our attack Toov's.
Our table position. Losing to the hottest team is obviously no disgrace, even painfully at our home ground, but the demoralising 5 poor losses to bottom 8 teams has done quite possibly irreversible damage to our 2012 chances.
Sure the Dogs must be given enormous credit, they're obviously the form team of the comp at the top of the ladder, and as painful as it is to say, coached by the current best in the business. Reynolds and Barba sheer revelations as are their entire pack.
That said, this is meant to be fortress Brooke and both our engine room and our attack ultimately came up short. King 67 metres, Kite 54, Rose 48 totally outgunned by the Dogs reduced engine of Tolman's massive 184 metres and Graham's 154. In fact despite losing Kasiano the Dogs had 4 forwards reach the hundred plus 100 metre mark. By contrast we had just one, ironically Tony Williams.
RD 20 SEASON SCORECARD:
Plenty will argue it's only round 20 and a long way to go but the stats don't look pretty at this point, nor of course our precarious table position.
Win/loss: 10 wins and now 8 stinging losses. 5 of those losses to lowly ranked bottom 8 teams, and 3 at the once impregnable fortress. Ouch.
Engine room metres: We've loved them for years, but the truth is that in 2012 our engine room is struggling to make the big and critical metres.
Back row: Tony Williams (11 games) and Glenn Stewart (10 games) is a staggering toll and ultimately quite likely end of any genuine back to back threat.
Attack: Since the Parra first half picnic, just 24 points in 5 halves of football at the rate of a totally and utterly miserable 4.8 points per half. That's obviously nowhere near enough points. Surely with Brett returning we can get this back on track.
The injury/suspension toll: At last count we've missed an absolutely staggering Tony Williams 11 weeks, Glenn Stewart 10, Foran, Matai, Wolfman 6, Brett Stewart 5. Plus of course the usual 1-2 weeks for others. That's an unbelievable toll for any team and yet we're still a semi final chance.
The coach: Got a lesson from the master but let's put this in giant perspective. A brand new first season coach smashed by injuries/suspensions compared to a veteran dual premiership winning coach. Let's give Toov's all our support and plenty, plenty more seasons. Let's face it we can't win the comp every year but we sure as hell won't be far off it if we can keep our top team on the park.