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Marlins hang on to win local derby thriller

By Adam Lucius

What: Shute Shield round nine

Who: Manly v Warringah

Where: Manly Oval

Result: Manly 25-19

Manly are where on the table: Third (31 points)

80 minutes in 80 seconds: (Ex) Prime Ministers, Premiers, former Wallabies and Manly/Warringah old boys joined a crowd estimated at around 5-6000 at a packed Village Green to witness the 87th edition of the local derby. And just like it has been since day one, it was fierce and full of passion from the get-go. The Marlins were by far the better team in the first half, skipping out to a 22-5 halftime lead on the back of tries to Richie Hooper, Josh Turner and Adrian Hall. You sensed a strong start to the second half would put Manly on course for a comfortable win but there is no certainty when it comes to the local derby. The Rats scored within two minutes of the second half and kept coming. The Marlins' only points of the second half – a Sam Lane penalty – gave us some breathing space but Warringah would not go away. They scored back-to-back tries to draw to within six points, setting up a tense finish. The Rats won a scrum against the feed 10m out from the Manly with time up and then forced a penalty. But the Marlins held them out to kick-start a big night of celebrations at the bowlo. Phew!

Where it was won: Once again Manly's first half gave them a great foundation but the second half drop offs continue to give Turtle grey hairs. The Marlins dug deep in the last 10 to secure a dramatic win. Centre Dennis Pili-Gaitau was disallowed a legitimate try in the 47th minute. If it had been awarded, it would have kept the sweat count down at the end.

Marlins' best: Adrian Hall, Dennis Pili-Gaitau, Junior Palau, Mitch Lewis, Hayden Stringer, Ethan Uili.

What they said: "It was a good vibe. There was plenty of intensity but it was edge of the seat stuff there at the end. Our second half definitely needs improvement but it was good to get the win for this big crowd." – second-rower Adrian Hall

"The first half was great, really good, and they had no answer to us. But credit to them for making it close at the end. Anyway, we won and they didn't." – Coach Damien Cummins

"It was good to get back out there. There were a few emotions but I was more excited than nervous. It's good to get that run under my belt." – comeback king Kotoni Ale

Oddspot: There are some young Warringah supporters who have never seen their team win at Manly Oval. The Rats' last victory at the Village Green was way back in 2007. The overall record now stands at 50 wins to Manly against Warringah's 35 with two draws. Long may the local derby continue.

Where to from here: It's across the bridge to meet Eastern Suburbs at Woollahra Oval on Saturday

Brave Kotoni to make emotional return

By Adam Lucius

Manly Oval will be the scene of a remarkable and emotional comeback on Saturday as former captain Kotoni Ale makes a shock return after 12 months out of the game.

The workaholic No.7 returns to action at the same ground against the same opposition – Warringah - where on May 30 last year he suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of the ankle as well as soft tissue damage.

Kotone 8

No-one who was at the ground that day or watching on TV will forget the moment Ale buckled under a tackle and didn’t move for an hour before being taken off the field and straight to hospital.

But despite the damage, he never gave up hope of playing again as he endured a year of extensive rehab after his operation..

“It’s been a tough road but I’ve got a good network of people around me – friends, family, people at the club and work – that have helped me every step of the way,” he said.

“I think my partner would like me to re-think it (playing again) but I’ve still got that desire and hunger.

“I feel as though there is unfinished business. I want to lace up the boots again and get back out there.

“I am a little bit nervous but I’m also excited.

“I guess it’s a case of déjà vu. It’s the same opposition at the same ground 12 months on but there is no fear in my mind.”

It took a while for Ale to watch the incident on replay.

Asked his thoughts a year on, he said with a smile: “I should have passed the ball.

“It was just one of those freakish things that can happen on a football field.

“That’s all in the past now. The ankle feels really good. I can’t wait to get back out there.”

Coach Damien Cummins is yet to decide whether Ale will start the game or come off the bench.

Turtle is just delighted to see his former skipper back in action.

He said: “It’s a great effort to come back from such an injury.

“Some people said Kotoni would never play again but he was determined to get back. He’s done all the rehab and ticked all the boxes.

“It’s a massive lift for us. Kotoni is a next level player and a great leader.”

Marlins eye Rats after patchy win over Pirates

By Adam Lucius

What: Shute Shield round eight

Who: Manly v West Harbour

Where: Manly Oval

Result: Manly 29-19

Manly are where on the table: Fifth (27 points)

80 minutes in 80 seconds: Manly appeared to be in control of this one from the moment Junior Palau crashed his big frame over the line just three minutes in. In-form centre Dennis Pili-Gaitau doubled the advantage midway through the half with a brilliant solo effort following a smart switch of play from Tim Donlan to Tom Chesters from a scrum win. When Chesters finished off a raid that swept from the tennis courts to the eastern hill, Manly were comfortable at 19-0. Then a funny thing happened. Wests scored after the halftime bell to get a sniff and some real belief. Donlan helped restore normal transmission, picking up a loose ball and putting in a clever kick that bounced perfectly in one of Manly Oval's craters for Chesters to collect his double after the break. At 26-7, the Nomads were again going down nicely. But slowly things deteriorated. Wests fought back as Donlan headed for his second sin bin stint in as many weeks. The Pirates got to within seven with nine to go before a late Nick Holton penalty settled nerves.

Where it was won: The first 39 minutes set it up. It was pretty ordinary after that.

Marlins' best: Donlan was busy, Chesters collected a double and Pili-Gaitau was brilliant at times. Hats off to Palau and tight head prop Mitch Lewis.

What they said: "It was a pretty average game. It was ugly. It didn’t function that well. We've come off two big weeks against Randwick and Eastwood so maybe there was a bit of a letdown. We'll need to be a lot better next week." – coach Damien Cummins

"It was a bit tighter than we wanted it to be. We didn't play as well as we could have but we had a few guys playing out of position and were missing Laney (Sam Lane). We'll be better next week." – breakaway Harry Bergelin

Oddspot: This is the most intriguing Shute Shield for years. Who would have thought Parramatta would beat Eastwood on Saturday at the same time Warringah was doing a job on Randwick? Not us. Just five points separate leaders Randwick from the seventh-placed Rats.

Where to from here: It's Christmas Day for local rugby followers, with the Rats journeying down Pittwater Road to the Village Green for the big local derby. Do you think it's worth mentioning that they haven't beaten us at Manly Oval since 2007?