In a season punctuated by injuries, contract dramas and speculation over his own eventual sacking, Manly coach Geoff Toovey was happy to admit a little luck came the Sea Eagles’ way in their 26-24 win over Canberra on Sunday.
A 78th minute try to Brett Stewart completed a remarkable come-from-behind win over the Raiders in the nation’s capital to continue Manly’s incredible late-season surge.
Stewart had seemingly handed the home side a win when he failed to field a ball in the lead-up to Jarrad Kennedy’s 67th minute try.
But Jamie Lyon’s second four-pointer of the afternoon brought the Sea Eagles close in the 71st minute.
Stewart then rebounded to street away with two minutes to play to give Manly their sixth win in their last seven games.
“We went down with 10 minutes to go, but I think maybe the football gods were smiling on us a little bit. And we’ll take that, because they haven’t been good to us for most of the year,” Toovey said.
“It was a funny game, I don’t think either coach would be impressed with the whole thing.
“It ebbed and flowed, and I thought we could’ve kicked away when we were up 16-0, but we let them back into the match just before and again after halftime. All of a sudden, their confidence was up and they scored a couple more tries.”
After Manly led 16-0 at the half hour mark on the back of tries to Steve Matai, Lyon and Stewart, Canberra scored tries either side of halftime to get back into the game via Paul Vaughan and Edrick Lee.
When five-eighth Blake Austin burst through four Manly defenders to score next to the posts in the 58th minute, Canberra led for the first time in what was a see-sawing match. Kennedy then put them further ahead.
Then Manly’s big names shone: Lyon crossed out wide and in the shadows of fulltime Daly Cherry-Evans made a midfield break and found Stewart looming on his outside.
The star Manly fullback ran away to score next to the posts for his second try of the match. Skipper Jamie Lyon converted to secure the win that had looked unlikely only minutes earlier.
Manly move to 24 competition points and sit just outside the NRL top eight on percentages with three rounds left to play and remain well and truly in the hunt for an 11th consecutive finals appearance.
Toovey lauded the class of his senior players, with Cherry-Evans playing well, and both Stewart and Lyon scoring two tries each.
“We’ve been on a bit of a high for a month now, and I think that showed a bit today with the players,” he said.
Ricky Stuart was unimpressed that his side gave up another lead late.
“It’s been a common occurrence this year,” he said.
“It’s not the time to discuss it now though.”
The loss was Canberra’s ninth at home this year. They last loss nine home games in a season in 1982, their inaugural year in the first grade competition.