Hasler’s counterpart was equally impressed by the quality of Trbojevic, but scathing of the Eels’ defending that allowed him to shine so brightly.
“He’s a really good player but he was playing touch footy today,” Parramatta coach Brad Arthur said. “We gave him too much time and you give a bloke like him too much time, he’ll make you pay.”
The Eels offered little resistance to the flying fullback or his winger in tow Reuben Garrick, who scored a hat-trick of tries as Manly claimed outright fifth place on the ladder.
Garrick took just four minutes to begin his strong showing, making light work of the Eels backline to score in the corner while the home fans were still settling into their seats.
It prompted a brief fightback from the visitors, lead by Mitchell Moses’ boot. A clever kick from the Eels’ half set-up Ethan Parry to score in his first NRL game before another well-placed grubber allowed Brad Takairangi to give Parramatta a 12-6 lead.
The promising start was undone by the Eels’ lethargic, porous defensive line which allowed Daly Cherry-Evans to slip through, scoring besides the posts in the 25th minute to square the ledger with Garrick’s successful conversion.
Manly then regained the lead two minutes later in stunning fashion. Trbojevic sprinted out of the blocks when Cherry-Evans put-up a hopeful high ball, matched his opposite Clint Gutherson in the air before leaving the Parramatta fullback red-faced after stripping him of the ball mid-air to score in front of a bewildered 15,245 fans.
Shell-shocked from Trbojevic’s brilliance, the Eels’ lacklustre defence was open for business and allowed Brad Parker to score with a strong run down the left before Addin Fonua-Blake made it 26-12 before the break when he pounced on a short kick from Cherry-Evans.
Whatever stern words Parramatta coach Brad Arthur had for his team at the break failed to spark a fightback. Less than five minutes after the restart, normal order resumed as Garrick took a leaf out of Trbojevic’s playbook, out-leaping Maika Sivo to score from another brilliantly caught high kick. He then converted his own try to make it 32-12.
The hosts were running riot and thought they had put the contest to bed shortly after when they pried open space on the right flank. Quick passes put Moses Suli within striking distance and the powerful young centre made no mistake to find the try-line, only for his celebrations to be cut short when the touch judge found Garrick had stepped on the sideline in the build-up.
Manly didn’t have to wait long for the inevitable, though. Finding space on the right again, the home side tore through the Eels backline and a cut-out pass from Tom Trbojevic allowed Garrick to score comfortably in the corner to seal his hat-trick before the hour-mark.
Some fans who’d travel from the west of Sydney decided they’d had enough at this point. The few dozen who left for the exits early missed Nathan Brown claw one back for the visitors, fortuitously receiving a ricochet off Jorge Taufua to run through an open hole in front of the posts.
A late try for Maika Sivo in the corner made it a 12-point deficit at the fulltime siren that flattered the Eels. What it did do, however, was deny Manly the complete performance they needed in preparation for next week’s trip to Melbourne.
“We lost our way in the second half so we need to fix that,” Hasler said.
The Eels will unlikely have Blake Ferguson return next week with the winger hospitalised due to an infection.
Dominic Bossi is a football reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.