Manly has added more misery to St George Illawarra’s nightmare fortnight, putting on a second-half clinic to beat the Dragons 32-18 in Robina.
In the earlier match in the NRL double header on the Gold Coast, Parramatta encountered little trouble in beating the Titans 26-8.
Just two weeks after a team barbecue threw the club into turmoil, the Dragons started bravely and led at half-time but were eaten alive in the second half by the Sea Eagles.
Already facing a long list of integrity unit bans over the next three weeks, the Dragons could have more problems in the middle with Poasa Faamausili on report for a crusher tackle.
The Dragons’ loss to the Sea Eagles came amid news that they could be without banned pair Daniel Alvaro and Zac Lomax for more than just the next fortnight, with doubts hanging over when they can enter Queensland.
Not that any of that will concern Manly, whose only bad moment came with edge forward Karl Lawton taken to hospital with back pain.
The win marked the Sea Eagles’ third of the season without the rested Tom Trbojevic, and came with captain Daly Cherry-Evans also sitting out after State of Origin III and Jake Trbojevic still injured.
Kieran Foran was superb in Cherry-Evans’s absence, while Haumole Olakau’atu was brilliant in the second row and Josh Schuster had several nice touches on return.
Starting at half-back before being moved to the second row, Schuster combined with Foran for a crucial try after half-time that swung the momentum of the match.
Down 14-12 at the break, Schuster put centre Moses Suli free before he backed up and then found Foran inside him with a no-look ball to put him over.
Cade Cust got Manly’s lead out to 10 moments later, before Foran provided a deft short ball for Brad Parker to go over untouched and seal the win.
Olakau’atu, meanwhile, continues to be one of the Sea Eagles’ most improved players.
He provided Manly’s first try when he burst through on the right edge and offloaded back inside for Morgan Harper to find his way over.
Moments later he ran onto a Schuster ball and steamrolled Brayden Wiliame and slammed the ball down.
The win keeps Manly’s faint top-four hopes alive, but it is the Dragons who will feel far bigger implications.
Anthony Griffin’s men still have nine players to face one-match bans over the next three weeks and — while they sit seventh on the ladder — they have one of the hardest runs to the end of the season.
Ben Hunt was their best on Friday night after starring for Queensland in Origin III, spreading the ball for their first try to Tyrell Sloan and kicking long for Gerard Beale to get a try late in the match.
Eels down Titans
David Fifita left it too late to make an impact as Gold Coast’s renewed top-eight hopes fell flat in its loss to Parramatta.
The Eels began their Gold Coast hub stay in positive fashion with a quick kill of the hosts, having led 20-0 at half-time despite the late withdrawal of rested NSW State of Origin halfback Mitchell Moses.
The Titans had beaten Canberra 44-6 before last week’s bye and — with all three Queensland Origin representatives backing up — had hoped to make a statement in their push for a place in the top eight.
Instead, they were shown up by a side with lofty ambitions of their own, with the Eels moving to a 13-4 win-loss record to consolidate their spot inside the top four.
Suspended for Queensland’s Origin III win on Wednesday, Fifita arrived in Robina fresh but — despite narrowly missing out on a try-scoring double — was subbed in the first half and finished with just 69 metres from nine runs.
The Eels were without Blues prop Junior Paulo but a long-range Dylan Brown try broke the shackles in the ninth minute, before Titans forward Kevin Proctor tipped Isaiah Papali’i dangerously in a tackle and was sent to the sin-bin.
The one-man advantage was all the visitors needed, Shaun Lane and Reed Mahoney scoring easy tries and Moses’s replacement Haze Dunster scooping up a Clint Gutherson kick to make it three inside five minutes.
Ryan Matterson added a try in a dominant performance after half-time, before the Titans finally found some touch with Ash Taylor’s cut-out pass hitting Brian Kelly on the chest.
Fifita then popped up — he had made just five runs in 35 minutes of match time — in the 66th minute.
His opportunistic try from a Tyrone Peachey grubber made it 26-8, but Patrick Herbert missed both kicks after regular kicker Jamal Fogarty left the ground nursing his hand.
Fifita thought he had a double on full-time, only for the try to be overruled because of an earlier knock-on.