A trip to the Gold Coast set up the enticing prospect of one last win to secure a golden top 4 position and a blockbuster Dogs clash.
Nobody but the football gods know why games can start the way they do, and this one had Gold Coast sitting us on our heels immediately. Trapped inside our own twenty we were forced to defend repeat sets, and it didn't take long for a dreadful ref error to make it even harder when Ballin was incorrectly ruled to have knocked on. These are the blunders that highlight the insanity of video refs not being far more involved, but perhaps the pending captains challenge will help.
Gifted further possession the Titans laid on a mini chip kick for Gordon to score in the left corner after just 6 minutes. Not a good start, but champion teams never panic, even with the blow of Choc succumbing early to an arm injury that appeared more precautionary than serious.
It took a while but after finally gaining some possession, and with it better field position, our pack began the task of quietening the early Titans enthusiasm. An 18th minute attacking raid saw the marvellously in form Foran deliver one of his magical inside banana kicks, landing it to perfection for you know who Brett Stewart to scream through and pounce on the rolling ball before anyone else could blink. 6-4 and game on.
Another 10 minutes saw us settle even more into our rhythm with some nice attacking sets. Another left side play saw Foran this time fire a lovely inside ball to the lurking Brett who sent instinctively sent a one arm flick pass to an equally flying Ballin. Crash tackled onto his back inches short of the line Matty brilliantly raised the ball over his head to plant it on the line. A really great try and a nice 10-4 lead.
More dodgy ref calls threatened to spoil the half, in fairness not all of them going against us with the most critical landing a relieving possession metres out from our line via an apparent undetected strip. Many teams would have been content with the 10-4 score, but we've proved many times that playing out every second of a half can make a match winning difference and this was the perfect example.
With the seconds ticking down to half time we kept the ball alive with some never say die passes culminating in DCE wriggling out of a would be tackle to get away an offload to Brett, whose razor sharp brain squeezed a quick fire pass onto Glenn, who in turn managed a great ball out wide to Mr footy brain Jamie Lyon. Pouring down the right the defence converged on Jamie but he got boot to ball for an arcing inside kick, lobbing it across the face of the in goal for those two terriors in 6 and 1 to swoop on the prize. Either could have scored, but Brett was more than happy to stand by as Foran plucked the rolling ball to score a sensational try.
Suddenly a solid 10-4 start had turned into a match winning 18-4 scoreline.
Just 3 minutes was all it took to extend the lead when yet another Foran left side play and some fluent passes put Taufua away in the corner with military precision. Hugs all round with the scoreboard sitting comfortably at 24-4.
As our dearly remembered Rex Mossop would have lamented the 2nd half was yet another repeat case of deja vu. So in control, it was simply a matter of how we would choose to occupy the next 36 minutes. Some attacking practice would be nice, but with the Dogs clash lurking another 2nd half defensive drill would be the smartest order.
A minor slip in the 57th minute allowed dummy half Falloon to sneak through border security for 24-10. A try you could almost smell we were happy to lay down for given it snuffed out any danger of a 35 point win resulting in a sudden change of semi final travel plans from Homebush to Melbourne. Sure Melbourne are beatable but Billy the kid in his southern backyard is something I'm happy to see the Bunnies face.
Meanwhile the game meandered on without much consequence, the well in control Manly machine content to do laps of the track in 2nd gear with the elbow resting comfortably out the window. The Titans managed a 72nd try for 24-16 but not even that was enough to warrant a shift into 3rd gear, this was an economically comfortable cruise to the finish line.
Once again the boring doomsayers will no doubt concoct some sort of ridiculous non story that we have 2nd half problems. All of which is of course utter nonsense. When Usain Bolt has the early rounds wrapped up half way down the straight he doesn't need to kill himself to cross the finish line. It's called pacing. Smart pacing. Something we are doing very, very well as we build our preparation for the battles that matter. Nate Myles echoed that simply agreeing "they did it in 2nd gear".
Brett Stewart: Running into the sort of form that says premiership. Scored one try and went perilously close to two more, and of course save as a million houses at the back.
Jorge Taufau: Great game with plenty of solid runs, and miraculously escaping a train derailment with the world's biggest carriage Idris.
Steve Matai: Another quality match never put a foot wrong.
Jamie Lyon: Plays like the 40th min one are the stuff of special players. Brilliant.
Dean Whare: Once again not a glut of opportunities but never troubled.
Keiran Foran: Another masterful game setting up the killer first half blows.
Daly Cherry-Evans: Busy game with both the ball in hand and on the boot.
Glenn Stewart: The best part about Glenn is the last few weeks is you know he can go up several notches from this when it counts.
Tony Williams: Never really needed to do much, but nonetheless made his considerable presence felt with the usual shoving runs.
Anthony Watmough: Forced off early which was probably a sort of blessing for next week.
Jason King: Not a big involvement but you sensed treading very carefully coming back from injury. As long as he's there next week who cares what's his stats were.
Matt Ballin: The usual monster tackle haul.
Brent Kite: Another workhorse game with a massive 46 tackles.
Jamie Buhrer: Solid, dependable contribution.
Joe Guluvao: No frills tough input from the evergreen worker.
Darcy Lussick: Just when we thought we might not really miss him he's been pretty solid of late.
Vic Mauro: Largely filling in for Choc with 34 important tackles.
PS. Anyone know where George was?
Wrapping up 4th spot with another precision performance sees us looking superbly paced and placed for a big month ahead.
The refs and those inexplicably shocking calls.
A late Greg Bird hit on DCE went undetected, something that didn't escape Toov's attention after the match. He might be a good player but Bird is just one dirty grub. Fortunately DCE was back on his feet, but it could easily have been bad.
Congratulations to the entire club from the officials, training staff (including the unsung hero Donny Singe), every player and of course Toov's for a magnificent 2012 season. Considering the extraordinary tale of woes starting with the post GF Hasler saga and the never ending list of injuries and suspensions our 4th place finish is a simply tremendous result. The entree has been a fantastic, now let's bring on the main course semi final feast. Can't wait to begin with a smacking to the mini premier Desdogs.