First tackle: Jake deserved to be binned
Manly were on top, leading 26-20 in their sudden death final against the Rabbitohs halfway through the second half. Centre Brad Parker had been back on the field for just three minutes after spending 10 minutes in the sin bin for tripping. Dane Gagai made a break on halfway, passed the ball and trailed in support. Manly's Jake Trbojevic was chasing back in defence and found himself blocked by Gagai who backed off from full pace after passing.
Trbojevic had to deviate around Gagai, run into the back of him, or do anything apart from what he did, which was to grab some jersey with both hands and yank Gagai back and out of the way. Gagai, feeling his jersey grabbed, fell to the ground like he'd had both legs chopped out from beneath him. Commentators lamented the minimal nature of the contact, but what Trbojevic did was a professional foul in every letter of the rule.
It certainly cost Manly, arguably the better team on the night, what would have been a well-deserved victory. Missing the defence of Trbojevic, coupled with being down to 12 men for half of the second half was just too much for the Sea Eagles.
Second tackle: Smith to the bin
Speaking of sin binning, Storm captain Cameron Smith spent 10 minutes off the field during the clash with the Eels after a bizarre incident. Smith was tackled while kicking by Eels hooker Reed Mahoney who decided to hang onto the veteran for a little longer than Smith deemed necessary. Frustrated by the Eel wrapped around his legs, Smith shoved and finally slapped Mahoney across the forehead, despite the pocket referee standing over the confrontation yelling at the pair of them.
The slap would barely have knocked the skin off a custard, but during the Rabbitohs clash with the Sea Eagles the previous night, a referee was heard to say that an open-handed slap was an automatic sin bin. Perhaps Smith didn't watch that game, but he took his binning on the chin and jogged off with no complaints.
Third Tackle: Set plays, things of beauty
We saw some beautifully executed plays early in the clash between the Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs. The first four tries involved precision timing, expertly run decoys, brilliant running lines, deception and deft passes.
The Rabbitohs opened the scoring by drawing Moses Suli into a decoy before setting Alex Johnson free down the left. He used his speed and power to plough past Jake Trbojevic and through Manly fullback Brendan Elliot. Their second try was even prettier as an intricate series of decoys saw halfback Daly Cherry-Evans turned inside out as Cody Walker tore through on a diagonal run to score behind his back.
Manly's first two tries both involved isolating Adam Reynolds on South Sydney's right edge. The first saw centre Brad Parker roll right over the top of Reynolds after an amazing piece of deception. Parker looked to be running a line outside the decoy runner. Just as the decoy reached the defence, Dylan Walker double pumped his pass, the decoy shuffled left, Parker stepped and veered through the gap created and scored after using Reynolds as a speed bump.
The second Manly try came through the same channel, this time Walker hit the decoy running forward Corey Waddell on the chest with a perfectly timed pass and he strolled over. It was finals football at its best with coaches Wayne Bennett and Des Hasler pulling out their best moves and having their players execute to perfection.
Fourth tackle: Highs and lows for Sivo
What a difference a week makes as Eels winger Maiko Sivo discovered, going from hero to villain in his first two finals appearances. His start to the semifinal against the Storm was nothing short of a horror show as he dropped the ball, was penalised and placed on report for a shoulder charge and was generally outplayed in all departments by opposite winger Suliasi Vunivalu.
Last week against the Broncos he could do no wrong. A crowd favourite at Bankwest Stadium he delighted Eels supporters with two tries and numerous rampaging runs, as they demolished the Broncos. Sivo has had a great season and will be back next year scoring more tries for the Eels.
Fifth and last: Talent finally being fulfilled
There's an interesting NRL story behind Manly's bulldozing centre Moses Suli. He started at Wests Tigers in 2016 in their U20s National Youth Competition team. There were such big wraps on his prodigious talents that he was signed to a healthy three-year deal at the beginning of 2017, before making his first grade debut.
In January 2018 the Tigers released him after a string of disciplinary issues including turning up late for training, missing training and generally not fully embracing the whole concept of training. The Bulldogs pounced and signed him immediately, but before the 2018 competition even started Suli ran out of warnings at the club and they tore up his contract.
He found his way to Brookvale where he started in similar fashion, including missing a team flight to New Zealand after misplacing his passport. This season under Des Hasler he seems to be finally living up to the promise, in what must surely have been his last chance at a NRL career.
He looks to be thriving at Manly and has proven almost unstoppable when he gets up a full head of steam. His left-arm fend could stop a bus and he can set up his winger with well-timed passes. He will be a key part of the club's drive to go even better in 2020.
Handover - Top four reign again
And so again we are left with the top four teams after the second round of the finals. In the eight years since this system of playoffs was adopted, the top four teams have made it through to the preliminary finals on five occasions.
Of the three occasions that a team outside the top four has made the preliminaries, twice that team, the Cowboys in 2017 and the Bulldogs in 2014, have made it through to the grand final.
In those eight years no team that has finished outside the top four has gone on to win the competition. It proves how pointless it would be to expand the number of teams in the finals, through wildcards or any other methods.