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Gutho and Brown combine to end Manly’s year

Parramatta have all but ended Manly’s season after a 36-20 thriller at 4 Pines Park that saw the lead shift several times, with both sides leading by more than a converted try, before the Eels blew it out late.

After tonight’s defeat, it is hard to plot a path to the post-season for Manly: they are two wins and plenty of points differential back on the 8th place Sydney Roosters with games fast running out. Parra, on the other hand, are back in touching distance of the top four.

Though the game itself was filled with talking points, it will be hard to ignore a pivotal bunker decision that could have given the Sea Eagles a two try lead early in the second half.

Having took the lead early after the break, Manly thought they had another soon after with strong shouts for both a penalty try and a sin bin in the process.

Gutherson spilled a kick backwards, and as Morgan Harper and Will Penisini raced, it appeared that the Parra man pulled his opponent back. Harper did ground, but the bunker ruled that it was short and the Sea Eagle had not been impeded. The vast majority of the sellout crowd disagreed.

It was another momentum shift in a topsy-turvy game, with Manly settling for a penalty goal soon afterwards, only for Parra to strike twice in quick succession.

The Eels, without Mitchell Moses, needed their leaders to stand up. Gutherson and Dylan Brown did exactly that, with the fullback laying on three tries and scoring a spectacular one of his own that gave Parramatta a lead that they would not relinquish.

Jake Arthur, so often the whipping boy among fans, was also excellent and created two tries, one of them a contender for finish of the year from Waqa Blake.

Manly welcomed back their seven refusniks from last week and got tries out of three of them, with Tolutau Koula, Christian Tuipulotu and Jason Saab all crossing. Saab was Manly’s best player on the night, with four line breaks and several key defensive plays, and did not deserve to be on the losing side.

Des Hasler will be happy about the manner in which his side changed the narrative in the first half through confident, attacking football, but equally, angered by the way that they faded late on.

The first half was a tale of two halves. From minute one through minute 20, it was all Parra: they had 65% of the ball and scored twice through Maika Sivo.

The first was a simple left shift that Tuipulotu totally misread, enabling an easy stroll to the line for the Fijian winger. The second was crafted by Brown and Gutherson, who overloaded the short side to get their man in again.

The Eels are often unable to keep up intensity over a half, and lost the run of themselves completely. Jason Saab was at the heart of the resurrection: he made four line breaks in 15 minutes, the first of which got the Sea Eagles into the field position from which Daly Cherry-Evans kicked for Koula to score.

Then followed one of the most bizarre passages of the year. Manly kicked, with Gutherson nowhere near the bounce. Cherry-Evans took it and was held, but got the ball out – only for Saab and Harper to have run straight past the play.

Andrew Davey picked up, kicked a second time and Sivo, behind his own posts, knocked on direct to Dylan Brown in the field of play. After it all, Brown was offside and Reuben Garrick took the easiest of two points to level the scores.

Saab would get one of his own, spinning through Waqa Blake and touching down, before Parra bounced back with Shaun Lane offloading for Gutherson, who found Tom Opacic to level the scores.

The second half started at the same breakneck speed. Tuipulotu crashed over Gutherson to put Manly back in front, before the bunker controversy involving Harper and Penisini. The points did come eventually, but only two as Garrick took advantage of an escort call in the shadow of the posts.

Just as Manly had opened up their biggest lead of the night, they were immediately pegged back. Parra did it in style.

Arthur through a looping pass – high enough to easily clear Saab at full stretch – that Blake caught above his head and grounded at the corner with his entire body out of the field and a millimetre of grass between the ball and the chalk.

The Eels then thought they had the lead, with Ryan Matterson going over, but the bunker pulled him back for the most marginal of knock-ons.

It didn’t matter, because Parra turned on the style again – Lane to Gutherson, one of the most productive combinations in the NRL, with the fullback showing Garrick a clean set of heels to run it in from halfway.

Arthur then sealed the deal with a smart dab for Penisini to score. With ten to go and a ten point lead, that would be enough, though Brown added another one from distance through tired tackling to seal the deal.

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