It’s a rivalry as old as time. Or, at least, as old as 1947. The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles versus the Parramatta Eels.
The Northern Beaches toffs against the uncouth Western Sydney mob. There is always a feeling of more than sporting glory on the line in this battle of two different Sydney sides.
Parramatta, on the brink of total collapse. Dramatic terms but three losses on the trot, sliding out of the top four – what greater threat could there be? Teams don’t tend to go on to Premiership success off the back of a series of disappointing losses.
Manly, for their part, are nigh on unstoppable since the return of the unstoppable, unbelievable Tom Trbojevic.
Supported by the blast-from-the-past halves pairing of Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans. More than ever, they look likely of replicating that perfect season in 2011.
7.35 pm on a Saturday night, in the midst of a near-National lockdown, it is more than prime viewing for this bout between old foes.
With a hint of envy, we watch the crowds, in shorts and t-shirts, sipping on beers and cheering on the footy.
But immediately, the Manly Sea Eagles are on top. They make five line breaks in the first 10 minutes, without Parramatta ever touching the ball.
Two tries are conceded, the first is an awful bounce in the in-goal that Brad Parker gratefully accepts.
The second, is a big harbour bridge pass from the man-of-the-moment Tom Trbojevic to his offsider in Reuben Garrick.
Parramatta finally receives the ball after the opening 10 and give away a seven-tackle restart.
With huge pressure mounting, after giving away a penalty, they manage to take Morgan Parker out of play.
10-0 down after 10 minutes and they are already desperately keeping the game alive.
It is clear to any neutral observer that Parramatta is out-gunned. Much of the time, that is enough to ensure victory.
Nonetheless, Parramatta stays in the fight as the match settles into a rhythm.
There is a sense that Manly are significantly on top, but the Eels are running themselves ragged in an attempt to go the distance with their red-hot opposition.
Garrick drops the ball on the first tackle.
With 20 minutes left, Parramatta finally has a chance to play some of that electric football they are capable of.
It amounts to little and, the very next set, Cherry-Evans releases Saab with a great and wide pass.
Saab flies down the wing with purpose and gives it to the man who normally delivers the easy tries.
Trbojevic has another try. Truly remarkable statistics for such a shortened season.
When fully fit, they are a near-perfect team. Just last week, they went agonisingly close against Melbourne. With each week, they grow in confidence and expression.
With each week, Parramatta grows more unassured and nervous.
Next, it is Foran who wants to get in on the action. He delivers a big pass of his own to Garrick and suddenly it’s four tries to none and Parramatta have nowhere to go.
Manly have nowhere but up. Junior Paulo delivered an apology letter to Parramatta fans this week, half the team were in the media telling fans they were going for a massive game this week.
Manly are simply far too good.
The tries just keep coming and there is nothing Parramatta can do. 30 minutes and it is five tries to the men from across the bridge.
A spread out wide and Garrick is away. Players seem somehow unable to even stick a tackle on Manly.
Dylan Walker scores under the posts and Manly fans have rarely had a more enjoyable evening at the footy.
In the dying minutes of the half, it is some Ryan Matterson magic that gives Parramatta a glimpse of hope.
In what appears to be a simple spread out to the right, the Eels second-rower somehow flicks a spiralling ball out the back, across the face of another Parramatta player, into the grateful arms of Opacic who makes it 26-4 at the stroke of half time.
In the opening 15 minutes of the second half, it appears the referees are doing their best to manage Parramatta back into the game. T
hey have 9 sets to Manly’s 6, yet Manly have the better completion rate in the second half.
There are no points in the opening 15 minutes but that is more due to the impotence of Parramatta while being gifted the lion’s share of possession.
After a succession of unforced and diabolical Parramatta errors, Manly are able to easily score their first try since the 29th minute by spreading it again to Saab.
There is no further description needed really, that is all it took to break the Eels’ defence. Who would choose to be a Parramatta player in these final 20 minutes?
Not long after, Matterson delivers a shoulder to Parker’s head. It is a sickening scene as Parker immediately goes limp and is knocked unconscious.
Thus, both players nights are ended and likely much of Matterson’s season.
He is the first Parramatta player to be sent off in 15 years according to the Fox Sports statistics labs.
With it now 13 men on 12, it becomes even easier for the Manly Sea Eagles.
Moses Suli, the 18th man, with one of the more remarkable mullets ever put to a football field, is able to receive an out-of-this-world Trbojevic pass and Garrick converts to make it 38-4.
He also becomes the biggest points scorer in a Manly season. Well-deserved for a great season.
In the next set, repeat sets are given and, eventually, it is a professional foul from Marata Niukore. It is now 13 on 11 and about to get ugly for the Parramatta Eels.
It is impossible to now stem the tide and Tbojevic gets the easiest try assist of his career as Suli bags a second. The Eels players are dead inside.
A couple of tries later and Manly bring up the half-century, ending, as we know, Parramatta’s premiership chances.
Parramatta get a consolation try on the edge. The game ends 56-10 and the Sea Eagles are undeniably flying into the finals.
They are right up there with Melbourne and Penrith and are every chance of pulling off a remarkable season – if they can all stay fit.
Manly Sea Eagles 56 (Parker, Garrick 3, T. Trbojevic, Walker, Saab, Suli 2, Olakau’atu) def Parramatta Eels 10 (Opacic, Blake)
NRL News Player of the Match
3 Points – Tom Trbojevic (MAN)
2 Points – Daly Cherry-Evans (MAN)
1 Point – Reuben Garrick (MAN)