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So I says to my wife Ruth this afternoon, I says, “Brown has benched my mate Walsh.” She says, “Why?” I says, “To bring back a guy coming off a seven-week layoff from foot surgery.”

Then I says, “I bet they’ll chuck ‘Walshy’ on after 50 minutes when we’ve fallen behind and expect him to rescue them.”

I can’t believe how prophetic that wee pre-game spousal back-and-forth would prove.

The Warriors went down 38-32 to Manly in a wild Brookvale ride, but a late fight-back from the visitors cannot disguise a horrific second-half collapse when they should have been in a winning position.

Ahead 20-12 after a fair bit of luck in the first half, the Warriors were set to take a commanding lead with Kodi Nikorima eyeing off a two-man overlap five metres out from Manly’s line early in the second stanza.

Nikorima somehow found the grass in between rookies Rocco Berry and Edward Kosi, the latter fumbling a difficult catch.

Compounding the colossal balls-up, Sea Eagles fullback extraordinaire Tom Trbojevic – who already had two four-pointers to his name – laid on a try in the ensuing set for Morgan Harper. Then he set up another for Jason Saab five minutes later.

And Brown pitched the 18-year-old wunderkind Reece Walsh into the battle with the Warriors down 22-20.

‘Turbo’ was only just getting warmed up. He chalked up another two try assists for Reuben Garrick and Saab – the latter from a searing line-break – before Saab embarrassed Ken Maumalo to put the Sea Eagles up 36-20 with 17 minutes left.

With limited opportunity, Walsh did his best to pull the Warriors out of the fire. On consecutive plays, he almost sent Maumalo over out wide then put in a superb crossfield kick that resulted in Chanel Harris-Tavita scoring. Then Walsh backed up Tohu Harris’ offload to muscle over with six minutes left, setting up a grandstand finish.

But CHT bogarted the good ball from the point on, thwarting any chance of some miracle golden point action. Walsh finally touched the Steeden again on the Warriors’ last play of their last set – and almost conjured a potential equaliser for Big Ken, who was bundled into touch just short.

For the neutral fan, it was a thriller. For Warriors supporters, it was a harrowing experience borne out of poor decisions – and hopefully the end of the Walsh-off-the-bench experiment.

The Warriors enjoyed a dream start, Brown’s contentious selection call seemingly paying immediate dividends as a freewheeling Nikorima put Harris-Tavita over next to the posts in the third minute.

The visitors were dominant early and the Sea Eagles looked sloppy. Kane Evans was chewing up yards through the middle. Things looked rosy.

But perennial thorn-in-the-Warriors’-side Daly Cherry-Evans swung the game back in Manly’s favour with a brilliant 40/20.

Tom Trbojevic strolled through weak goal-line defence a couple of plays later to level the scores at the 10-minute mark.

The clumsy frame of Edward Kosi then helped Roger Tuivasa-Sheck fumble a Cherry-Evans bomb and gift Manly another set inside the Warriors’ 20.

Tommy Turbo gratefully accepted the opportunity – and shabby defence from Adam Pompey and Wayde Egan – to plunge over for try number two in his 100th NRL game.

But the hosts were not setting any benchmarks for goal-line resilience either.

Some clever dummy-half work from Wayde Egan paved the way for Tohu Harris to power over, Taumalolo-like, for his third try of 2021.

The Warriors spent much of the ensuing period under the pump and escaped unscathed on a few occasions. But the closing minutes of the first half belonged to them.

After a penalty goal courtesy of a Manly escort in the 34th minute, the Warriors received a huge leg-up when beanpole Jason Saab flubbed a regulation high kick in front of his posts.

Josh Curran gathered the crumbs and plunged over for his maiden first-grade four-pointer.

Victory was staring the Warriors (or more accurately, Nikorima) in the face. But they (he) bottled it – helped by one of the most dominant individual displays you could ever hope to see from T. Trbojevic.

Walsh was pitched into the centres on defence and struggled. But coming into a crumbling defensive line that had just conceded two quick tries was always going to be a tough ask – particularly when his good reads were thwarted by the increasingly incompetent Maumalo – and yet he still managed to pull the Warriors back into the contest with attacking chances that were infuriatingly scarce, due to Harris-Tavita’s baffling ball-hog mentality.

It’s easy to be smart in hindsight – and you can take or leave my boast that I was wise ahead of time. The Warriors also should have had more mental fortitude to go on with an eight-point halftime lead in spite of one bombed try. But the bottom line is Brown’s unnecessary gamble – which, it should be noted, was backed by at least half of TWL’s commenters during the week – backfired and his side left two valuable premiership points out on the Lottoland turf.

Manly Sea Eagles 38 (Jason Saab 3, Tom Trbojevic 2, Morgan Harper, Rebuen Garrick tries; Garrick 5goals) defeated Warriors 32 (Chanel Harris-Tavita 2, Tohu Harris, Josh Curran, Reece Walsh tries; Kodi Nikorima 6 goals) at Lottoland. 

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