Reuben Garrick
Reuben Garrick celebrates his try in Manly's win over Souths in the NRL season opener in Las Vegas. Image by AP PHOTO
  • rugby league

Manly put on second-half show to beat Souths in Vegas

Scott Bailey March 3, 2024

Manly have used the bright lights of Las Vegas to prove they want to be among the NRL’s true entertainers, putting on an attacking show to beat South Sydney 36-24.

In a pulsating season opener at Allegiant Stadium, the Sea Eagles scored three tries in the space of 12 minutes to turn an eight-point deficit into a 10-point lead on Saturday night (Sunday AEDT).

Amid fears about the skinniness of the ground and its potential to prompt conservative football, Manly spread the ball from superstar Tom Trbojevic’s first touch and scored six tries in all.

Tom Trbojevic
 Tom Trbojevic provided plenty of attacking spark for Manly. Image by HANDOUT/NRL PHOTOS 

The win marked the highest score by a team in a season opener in nine years, and was celebrated with a Rob Gronkowski-style spike try celebration by Reuben Garrick before a crowd of 40,706.

“Ultimately this year we’re just trying to play our football, and sometimes our football is going to look like that regardless of the shape of the field,” captain Daly Cherry-Evans said. 

“We said that coming over here, we didn’t want to just completely disregard our pre-season worth of training.

“We have a style that we want to play, there were probably glimpses of it tonight.

“I hope the Americans have taken notice. I hope they have enjoyed tonight.”

Manly’s win came despite the best efforts of Souths superstar Latrell Mitchell, who threatened to come good on his promise to turn the Super Bowl venue into Trellegiant Stadium.

Latrell Mitchell
 A fired-up Latrell Mitchell excelled for South Sydney but could not conjure a win. Image by HANDOUT/NRL PHOTOS 

After throwing the last pass for a Jacob Gagai try in the first half, he burst out of the blocks in the second and threatened to take the game with him.

Mitchell gave Souths a 14-10 lead when he took the line on after the break, running through Manly’s defence to score.

Moments later the fullback provided a quick ball to put Alex Johnston into space, drawing in the Manly defenders with a swift catch and pass to make it 20-10.

But from there, it all fell apart for the Rabbitohs.

Davvy Moale made an error early in the set following the kick off, and Lachlan Croker was able to go from dummy-half to score for Manly.

Richie Kennar then fumbled on the Rabbitohs’ next set, allowing Trbojevic to go to the line and put his brother Ben over from close distance.

And when Garrick pounced on a Daly Cherry-Evans grubber out of dummy-half and celebrated his try with a touchdown imitation, the game was done.

“It’s round one, when you’re not holding onto the ball the fatigue gets the better of you,” Souths coach Jason Demetriou lamented.

 Manly players take the field for the NRL season opener at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. Image by HANDOUT/NRL PHOTOS 

The only concern for Manly was a late hamstring injury for flying winger Jason Saab, who is unlikely to face the Sydney Roosters in a fortnight.

Saab had earlier lit up the Las Vegas Stadium, providing the biggest moment of the game for new American viewers when he intercepted a Mitchell pass to race 60 metres and score in the first half.

The 23-year-old also showed his speed when Trbojevic put him into space from close to his own in-goal, sprinting 80 metres before being run down by Lachlan Ilias.

Manly are a side full of attacking threats, but keeping them on the field in recent years has been the issue.

With Tom Trbojevic busy in both attack and defence, Haumole Olakau’atu scored the Sea Eagles’ first try when he powered through three Souths defenders off a scrum from 10 metres out.

Luke Brooks also played and ran the ball with confidence in his first game for his new club Manly, dropping a ball over the line in the first half before scoring in the second.