Manly’s NRL title assault has suffered a huge blow with Tom Trbojevic suffering a suspected ruptured pectoral muscle in their 36-6 loss to Melbourne.
Trbojevic will have scans on Sunday but there are fears the fullback’s season is over, robbing Manly of a vital attacking weapon.
Melbourne also sustained collateral damage before they wrapped up the minor premiership at Lotoland on Saturday with five-eighth Cameron Munster retreating late after aggravating a shoulder injury.
Adding to the drama, a Manly fan was also taken from the ground in handcuffs after a clash with Storm centre Will Chambers as he headed to the sinbin for a high tackle and subsequent scuffle.
Melbourne’s win has left the Sea Eagles facing a titanic battle to reach the top four, they need to beat Parramatta convincingly in the final round and also hope South Sydney lose to the Roosters on Thursday.
The Sea Eagles could be undermanned for that clash with second rower Jack Gosiewski (leg) and interchange forward Morgan Boyle (shoulder) copping knocks.
Trbojevic was the first casualty after he made a regulation tackle. He watched the remainder of the match while sporting a sling.
“It doesn’t look good for Tom. It looks like it’s a ruptured pec,” said Manly coach Des Hasler.
You would think that kind of injury would be season ending with the time we have left.
“It’s just unfortunate the footy gods work that way. He will have plenty of other opportunities going forward. The timing is the tough thing for him and the club.”
Brendan Elliot will likely move to fullback for Manly but it will be a tough ask to replace the Kangaroos and NSW star.
Before Saturday, Manly had won 10 of the 11 games they played with Trbojevic; without him their record is 4-7.
“Someone will step up and do a good job. The side have shown all year that they’re pretty resilient,” Hasler said, who also lamented his side’s error rate.
“I don’t think there was an error we didn’t make. They (Melbourne) were very clinical and very composed with the ball.”
Off the back of a dominant opening half-hour and a Justin Olam hat-trick, the result bumped Melbourne’s arch-rivals into a last-round scrap for the top four.
In a brutal evening at Brookvale, Jorge Taufua put on two of the biggest hits of the year in defence but Manly struggled to cause havoc with the ball as Melbourne had more than 70 play-the-balls in Manly’s 20-metre zone inside the opening 30 minutes.
The pressure told in points, with the Storm scoring three tries in that time frame, including the first leg of centre Olam’s first NRL treble from a bullet-like cut out pass from Cameron Smith.
Manly’s only try came in the 37th minute when Daly Cherry-Evans put Taniela Paseka over next to the posts.
Hasler’s counterpart Craig Bellamy described the minor premiership as one of the powerhouse club’s significant achievements.
“I reckon this one (minor premiership) is a little more special than the ones we have won,” he said.
“We’ve only been beaten four times this year and the biggest (losing margin) is four points. That’s pretty consistent and I’m really proud of this group because of that.”
Newcastle steps up after two weeks of drama
Newcastle as put a dramatic fortnight behind it with a 38-4 demolition of a hapless Gold Coast in their annual old boys’ day NRL clash.
Just days after coach Nathan Brown walked out on the club, the Knights ran in seven tries to one to post one of their biggest wins of the season.
It comes a week after a 46-4 no-show against the Wests Tigers, which prompted Brown, who had already decided to leave at season’s end, to depart on Tuesday.
The victory remarkably keeps the Knights’ slim finals hopes alive, lifting them to within two points of eighth-placed Cronulla, who face Canberra on Sunday.
Much of the build-up had centred on the events that led to Brown’s exit, as well as the club’s handling of the dramas since falling on his sword two weeks ago.
Players were also accused of giving up on their coach against the Tigers.
It all culminated in a meagre crowd of just 8274 at McDonald Jones Stadium – their lowest home turnout since 1997 – however, torrential rain in the lead-up will also have been a major factor. The Knights’ old boys’ day is traditionally the most-celebrated home game on their calendar.
Those who did show up were treated to a Knights team, led by interim coach Kristian Woolf, who looked unburdened by their off-field woes.
Stars David Klemmer, Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce were strong, although lesser names Mason Lino and Mitch Barnett were arguably best on ground.
For the last-placed Titans, showing little resolve in slumping to their 10th-straight defeat, the end of the season can’t come quickly enough.
The clouds only seemed to have darkened when the Knights conceded a soft first try to Titans halfback Ryley Jacks in just the fourth minute.
However, from the moment Klemmer threw a rare pass to put Pearce over untouched 10 minutes later, the clouds lifted.
Barnett crossed next before Hymel Hunt was on the end of a 90-metre movement in what was easily the highlight of the afternoon.
The Titans looked destined to score before Lino intercepted close to the line, and the Knights went through four sets of hands to go the length for Hunt to score.
A Connor Watson try gave Newcastle a 20-point lead at halftime, prompting the hearty fans to give their team a standing ovation as they left the field.
The points continued to flow after the break, including a maiden try to highly touted youngster Bradman Best, set up by Ponga.