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Titans put Dolphins disaster behind them, but Manly remembers what happens when Turbo doesn’t play

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The Titans bounced back from one of the NRL’s most embarrassing defeats in style, beating Manly 26-10 at 4 Pines Park.

For a team that showed near-zero resilience under Justin Holbrook, this was a rare occasion when they did. Manly had all the ball early on and should have been able to continue, but instead failed to deliver the ball and was punished.

David Fifita and the return of Kieran Foran were the architects of the victory, delivering the best moments in attack, but it was a collective effort defensively. To have crumbled so completely last week against the Dolphins will impress the coach more than anything.

The Titans will be counting their losses, however, after AJ Brimson left the game early with a suspected hamstring injury that will take away any lingering hopes of an Origin appearance.

Manly had been rocked by a late withdrawal from Tom Trbojevic, who failed to recover from his groin injury last week against the Tigers, and missed him dearly. No team misses their best player so much as Manly, and that was written all through this performance.

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The hosts failed to deliver a serious punch to their opponents, with just one try and two line breaks to show for a mountain of possession. Their departure took the night, just like last week against the Tigers. Tonight, however, they were punished for it.

A punishment could also be given to Haumole Olakau’atu after being charged for a crushing tackle. He did better than Tof Sipley, who sat out ten minutes after one of the most obvious crushers of the season.

The Titans come with a plan

Sometimes this rugby league is a simple game. The Titans are sometimes masters at putting the cart before the horse and have long been accused of looking for the easy way out.

Today was the easiest way. You don’t have to do much Manly video to know that their right edge – the one with Daly Cherry-Evans, Jason Saab and Morgan Harper – is sensitive defensively and the Gold Coast have been running traffic there all night.

Kieran Foran knows this team better than anyone, and despite all the criticism from David Fifita since joining the Titans, his record against Manly is superb.

It was a total shift tonight. The Titans got three tries before the break and went there time and time again.

Fifita was the star of the Titans. For the first time in what seems like a long time, we’ve seen the player who burst onto the scene in 2018.

He ran hard and broke tackles with ease, but also showed skill on touch and an expansive mentality with the ball. Alofiana Khan-Pereira, his winger, could not believe his luck.
A major factor in Fifita’s success has been working through the middle. Moeaki Fotuaika is in the kind of shape that saw him cast for Origin and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui remains one of the best around.

Although Manly could build momentum with his attacking midfielders, there was nothing he could do to stop the Titans’ roll.

Manly at ease in attack – and punished in defense

Much of Manly’s problems this year have been down to a shaky defense but that wasn’t their main loss tonight.

Of course, that straight edge is still a liability, but it’s been a liability for a long time and the team was able to throw themselves back enough that it didn’t matter. Tonight the attack was horrible and it left the defense high and dry.

The Sea Eagles couldn’t have asked for a better start. Within the first ten minutes, they camped out on the Titans line, with the Gold Coast unable to get out. Yet despite their well-documented defensive frailties, the Titans hung on and escaped with just one penalty conceded.

The difference in attack was clear: as much as Kaeo Weekes is a talent, he is not Tom Trbojevic, and it is difficult to replace a full-back who touches the ball multiple times per set.

Manly created chances in that opening period but they were a bit side by side and both finished with covering tackles that put the winger on the sidelines.

Weekes was struggling to get into the game. Turbo averages 38 touches per game, and his replacement was around a third of that. Needless to say, this will influence an attack since those hits have to go somewhere else.

The disjunction is perhaps to be expected. Cherry-Evans is one of the best in the business, but Cooper Johns is a backup, as is Weekes.

There was also a mentality problem. Having accumulated very little position on the pitch since the early stages, Manly scored, then earned a penalty in front of the sticks.

At eight behind, they chose to take both. The Titans would have kicked for them, so glad they didn’t have to keep tackling.

The coach ran immediately to cheer on the penalty goal, and while analysis tends to suggest both are the sensible plan, the feel and momentum of the game suggested otherwise.



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