In the biggest game of their careers, Manly’s players and coach Des Hasler watched on in disbelief as their bus arrived late to pick them up before they were stuck in horrendous traffic and eventually required a police escort only to arrive at Suncorp Stadium just 30 minutes before they were meant to run out for a delayed kick-off.
Manly’s players each recall the crazy series of events a little differently, but they all agree it wasn’t the ideal preparation for the biggest night of their rugby league careers.
Sea Eagles winger Reuben Garrick revealed Hasler had some rather stern words for the bus driver when he finally arrived to pick the team and support staff up from their Sunshine Coast hotel.
“You don’t want to know what he (Hasler) said to the driver when he showed up,” Garrick told foxsports.com.au.
“We had a full police escort and our heads were all falling off as well.
“It was the biggest game of all of our careers and we rock into the stadium with 30 minutes until we play.
“I think everyone was a bit on edge, but we were just trying to stay as relaxed as possible.”
However Garrick refused to blame the chaotic prelude for the 36-16 defeat that ended Manly’s 2021 season one game short of a first grand final for the club since 2013.
“Not really, at the end of the day you have done your prep and you have got to run out on the field and you have got to perform,” Garrick said.
“Look I don’t think it had much of an effect there, but that is something where we need to build our resilience and is that something we have been working on this pre-season.”
Manly utility Dylan Walker recalls the eerie silence on the bus as the players started to realise that they were in danger of missing kick-off.
“It was weird because when we left we knew it takes a fair while to get to Brisbane from the Sunshine Coast,” Walker told foxsports.com.au.
“There was big traffic jams logged up and we were sitting on the bus going f*** we are going to be late.
“It is a big game. The one game of the year where you can’t be late. I don’t know whose fault it was but we tried to get on with it.
“In the end we couldn’t get the win and that’s a burning desire for everyone in the team to get there again and win.”
While Hasler and the coaching staff were sweating bullets, two players that had their own share of nerves ahead of their first ever preliminary final were the Trbojevic brothers.
“Geez I was stressing,” Jake Trbojevic told foxsports.com.au.
“I didn’t even need Des blowing up I was stressing.
“I kept mapping it out on my phone and it was getting longer and longer and I thought god we are not going to make it.
“Thankfully we got the police escort and then the NRL pushed the game back so that made it a bit easier to process.
“It wasn’t ideal. The bus was late to pick us up and then the Friday traffic from Sunshine Coast to Brisbane was like something I’d never seen. It was ridiculous.
“I think it was traffic the whole way. It wasn’t ideal.”
“Yeah that was stressful,” Tom Trbojevic said.
“It was a weird one. They were late to pick us up and we weren’t really moving very far once we got on the bus.
“I was pretty nervous at the time anyway and that certainly didn’t help, but luckily they pushed the game back.
“It didn’t cost us the game. Souths were just too good, but I wouldn’t like to go through that again.”
Manly recruit Jason Saab was playing in his first ever finals series and while he recalls Hasler’s angst at the situation, he credits the coach with keeping his players on task.
“He was pretty filthy with the traffic and the bus being late,” Saab told foxsports.com.au.
“But as a coach he is so much about being resilient.
“He spoke to us before we got off the bus and told us that this has got nothing to do with our performance.
“Even though we did lose and not in a great way he was right to say that because as a team when you kick off and you play nothing else really matters. Not your sleep or what you ate.
“I think that bus trip threw us off a bit. But Des is such a competitor and just wanted us to win.”
Sea Eagles enforcer Marty Taupau recalled the players reacting a little differently but conceded it was a tough position for the coaching staff to be in as they tried to prepare the players for the biggest game of their lives.
“From memory the players were pretty calm about it,” Taupau told foxsports.com.au.
“First the bus was late but then I think it was more the traffic on the way to the ground.
“We all started to realise there was a lot of traffic and then we saw this police escort.
“I could only imagine what Des and the coaching staff were going through having to reorganise the times and that sort of stuff.
“The players tried to stay focused and calm because we have all been there in situations where we had to panic, but we tried to stay focused on the job.
“We got there in the end.”
If Manly find themselves in the preliminary final in 2022 you can bet they will be staying in the hotel right next to the ground this time.