By Adam Lucius
It was probably the cruellest local derby loss in the history of Manly v Warringah stoushes.
Leading 19-14 running into a southerly gale and with prop James Lakepa in the sin bin, the Marlins looked likely to score and wrap the match up with a bonus point fourth try in the 77th minute.
But the ball spilt free 20m out from the Warringah line and the Rats swept up the other end of the field to level the scores and then go ahead 21-19 with the conversion.
Manly's disappointment was palpable. They had been less than three minutes away form a famous victory - one which would have completed a seven-grade sweep over the old enemy at
"I was very disappointed for the boys, the effort was there, the commitment was there," coach Phil Blake said.
"We outplayed them in all facets of the game but not on the scoreboard.
"That happens sometimes. If anything it's a valuable lesson not to clock off at any stage of the game, whether it's 20 minutes to go or 90 seconds."
In bitterly cold conditions, Manly trailed 7-0 early before busy hooker Elvis Taione scored to level it up after 25 minutes.
An intercept try to Willie Bishop put the Rats back in charge before man-of-the-match Josh Gamgee dummied and stepped his way through to lock it up at 14-all.
Gamgee set up Manly's third try eight minutes into the second half, the gifted fly-half breaking free of the defence and putting in a perfect grubber for Lui Siale to score.
It stayed 19-14 until the dying minutes, Warringah stealing the points with a length-of-the-field effort.
Manly had every right to feel aggrieved, especially the contentious decision by referee James Scholtens to sin bin Lakepa for an alleged shoulder charge in the 69th minute.
Blake said of the ruling: "It was just a ridiculous decision at that time of the game.
"Instead of letting the players decide the result he wanted to decide it and he made a decision that I think in hindsight he wouldn’t have made.
"He took it upon himself to decide the game and it was shame because it was a good game and everyone enjoyed it."
Blake now has to lift his side for the daunting trip to Sydney Uni next Saturday.
"The performance and effort was certainly there against Warringah and sometimes that football. You learn from it and move on," he said.
"If we can replicate that sort of commitment next week, all of sudden you might find yourself on the other side of the scoreboard."