Flanno’s Dragons tough it out as Manly shoot themselves in the foot, then aim again in error-strewn madness


It was like an NRL match ordered off Wish.

There was a packed stadium, two line-ups with superstars and perfect playing conditions, but both the Dragons and the Sea Eagles decided to spend an afternoon dropping the ball.

At one point on the commentary, Andrew Voss compared the assembled stars to actors playing the part of footy players, and he wasn’t wrong.

St George Illawarra weren’t quite as bad with the footy and defended superbly, deservedly earning a 20-12 win thanks to two tries from Tyrell Sloan, but it would be hard pushed to say they played that well. It was just that they played better than Manly.

The Sea Eagles were dreadful, making a host of errors of the type that one simply doesn’t expect to see at this level. Tom Trbojevic threw a forward pass to Haumole Olakau’atu who was a full yard ahead of him. Josh Aloiai dropped a ball dead one pass off the ruck. Daly Cherry-Evans chucked a pass straight over the sideline.

Anthony Seibold’s footy can be high risk, and he’ll cop errors made in the pursuit of breaking the line. But this wasn’t that. It was simple, basic stuff.

Shane Flanagan’s side have defended horrendously at times this year but were excellent without the ball tonight.

In the first half, they played the possession game well enough – aided by Manly simply giving them the footy in their own end – to generate a lead and then tackled manfully to keep it.

It was far from easy, especially after they decided to join in the dropping party after the break, but had enough about them to hang on.

The Dragons formula is simple, but it might work

As a new coach, you know you can’t change everything overnight. You look for improvements in the stuff that you can work on immediately, however, and resilience and togetherness is pretty much top of that list.

This team are unlikely to be world beaters but they absolutely gave themselves a chance here through their defence – unlike on previous occasions this year – that will please Flanagan no end.

The period early in the second half where they kept Manly at bay for three consecutive sets on their own line is the stuff that coaches’ dreams are made of. Manly threw plenty, but got nowhere.

In the first half, the Dragons had everything go their way (largely thanks to the opposition) and might have gone further ahead.

What a try! ????

The Dragons fans are going crazy after Sloan got his second of the evening! ????

???? Watch #NRLDragonsManly on ch.502 or stream on Kayo: https://t.co/B1ijnGXtqA
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???? MATCH CENTRE https://t.co/Ud8H4mEfce pic.twitter.com/V3mo1mf3cA

— Fox League (@FOXNRL) March 30, 2024

The teething problems of their attack remain there for anyone to see, with no real creativity or dynamism. When they did throw it in the second half, it went horrendously, so baby steps might be the order of the day.

If you play completions footy and defend hard, you’ll stay in games, at least against the bottom half of the league and teams that play badly. It got the Dolphins plenty far last year, and gets Canberra a decent distance every year.

Flanagan’s teams have been a lot like that for years and, while it’s not great to watch, it’ll get you results for a decent while. Today was one of those days.

Tyrell Sloan gets over and the Dragons take the lead! ????

???? Watch #NRLDragonsManly on ch.502 or stream on Kayo: https://t.co/B1ijnGXtqA
BLOG https://t.co/qtpyZQ41Xg
???? MATCH CENTRE https://t.co/Ud8H4mEfce pic.twitter.com/CVzplc7dzv

— Fox League (@FOXNRL) March 30, 2024

Manly’s style hits a buffer

It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you complete at 60% and give away six infringements in a half, you’ll not win many games.

Manly were very lucky to be within touching distance at half time, and nobody summed it up better than Tom Trbojevic.

The fullback produced one of the moments of the season to offload to Tolu Koula for the opening try and an amazing trysaver to deny Mikaele Rawalava, but dropped balls left right and centre at other times. It was as up and down a showing as they come.

It wasn’t just Turbo, too. Daly Cherry-Evans chucked on into touch, Reuben Garrick let Sloan runs straight past him and both Ben Trbojevic and Nathan Brown made shocking errors.

Manly only ended the half around 50m short in yardage, which given that they had seven fewer sets, showed what they could do when they hold the ball. It’s just that they didn’t hold it anywhere near enough.

In the second half, there was an appearance of ball control in that the Dragons made even more errors, but the needle didn’t actually move much for Manly.

Tom Trbojevic gets Manly going EARLY! ????

???? Watch #NRLDragonsManly on ch.502 or stream on Kayo: https://t.co/B1ijnGXtqA
BLOG https://t.co/qtpyZQ41Xg
???? MATCH CENTRE https://t.co/Ud8H4mEfce pic.twitter.com/P9jvq3v6EY

— Fox League (@FOXNRL) March 30, 2024

With the sort of football they try to play, these things will happen, and it shows that the early season hype might need tempering.

This was a poor showing, but Seibold knows that not everything is there yet. This was a stark reminder of what can happen when they don’t make it work.

Some of the building blocks were still there, in that the average set distance remained high and the commitment to playing expansively didn’t waver, but the execution never worked and the Dragons defended very well.

The test for Seibold now is to go again next week against Penrith without fear. He’s all in on this footy, and the players have to be too – even on days, like this, when nothing goes right.

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