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Class gets Sea Eagles home

It's the luxury the cash-strapped Titans could only dream of.

Where they have managed to hold teams in the middle for the majority of the season, they don't have the quartet of Daly Cherry-Evans, Kieran Foran, Jamie Lyon and Brett Stewart to call on in times of need and on Sunday, at Cbus Super Stadium, that made all the difference.

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Whether the Sea Eagles were brought back to the Titans' standard or were working their way through a mini form slump in their 15-12 victory is up for debate but a lopsided penalty count kept the Titans in the contest for perhaps longer than deserved and if not for their star backline Manly's minor premiership aspirations could have taken a far greater hit.

Under caretaker coach Neil Henry for the first time, the Titans were forced to seek just their third win at home for the season – minus Origin representative Dave Taylor, while Kalifa Faifai Loa was preferred over Kevin Gordon.

The Sea Eagles went in without Steve Matai but with Anthony Watmough causing havoc through the middle of the ruck and the best backline in the competition at their disposal they were able to return to the top of the table with three rounds remaining.

Cherry-Evans and Foran combined for the opening try of the game seven minutes from the half-time siren and then as the game meandered towards a tight finish 15 minutes into the second stanza again it was Foran who stamped his class on proceedings.

After taking the ball on halfway he shrugged off a Daniel Mortimer attempted tackle before busting into the back-field, Stewart looming large on the inside to score untouched under the posts.

Five minutes earlier Lyon and Stewart combined in a piece of play that while it didn't directly lead to points further emphasised what's possible with such footballers in your team. Under pressure on their goal-line after a good kick from Mortimer, Lyon offloaded to Stewart on the second tackle, the fullback working his way down to the 25m mark and finishing the set on the Titans' tryline.

It was the type of play that changes momentum in a game of football and only the good players deliver it when it is needed the most.

Incredibly the Titans were only a converted try behind with four minutes remaining but Cherry-Evans took the game beyond Gold Coast's desperate reach by swivelling from his right foot and onto his left to pot a one-pointer that looked certain to be all that separated the two teams before Lyon slotted a penalty goal as the full-time siren sounded.

Faifai Loa set up a tense final two minutes when he latched onto an Aidan Sezer grubber kick in the south-eastern corner – Sezer converting from the sideline – but when they went looking for that game-changing play for interim coach Neil Henry, it was nowhere to be found.

On the back of a 7-3 penalty count that was 5-1 in their favour after 22 minutes, the Titans dominated territory in the opening exchanges but cruelled opportunity after opportunity with basic handling errors inside the Manly 30-metre zone.

On the back of three penalties and a goal-line dropout the home side enjoyed six sets in succession at one point but as they set up for another attacking raid on the 30 metre line, Nate Myles dropped the ball in the play-the-ball and the pressure valve was released.

Two minutes later the Sea Eagles went on the attack courtesy of a bust by Anthony Watmough and chip kick from Daly Cherry-Evans but the best chance of the opening quarter came when Greg Bird charged at the Manly defence in the 19th minute, only to be crunched by Cheyse Blair who came in off the wing to shut down the Titans co-captain inches short of the line.

Sea Eagles winger Jorge Taufua was bundled into touch by spirited Titans cover defence in the 27th minute and just when statisticians were wondering whether we were about to see a scoreless half of football, Manly's international halves combined for the opening try of the game.

From just inside their own half Cherry-Evans got in between Brad Takairangi and Kalifa Faifai Loa courtesy of a Brett Stewart cut-out pass and then as he entered the back-field weighed up his options before spotting Kieran Foran unmarked on his inside.

A squeezed grubber kick across his body just as he got to the Titans' last line of defence put the Steeden directly in Foran's path and despite the suggestion that he may have been in front of the kicker, the Kiwi five-eighth collected possession and ran 20 metres to score beside the posts.

Five minutes later Cherry-Evans looked to have laid on another – this time for captain Jamie Lyon – but the on-field decision of 'try' was over-ruled upon review for a decoy run by Tom Symonds that interfered with Titans five-eighth Aidan Sezer.

Then, with only seconds left in the half and with nothing happening, Titans centre James Roberts cut back from the right-hand side on an arcing run and when he found a small gap in the Sea Eagles defence he blew straight through it, convincing even the men in pink that he could only have got through untouched with the use of obstruction.

But he's just that quick and the video referee again over-turned the on-field decision to lock scores up at 6-all heading into half-time.

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 15 (Kieran Foran, Brett Stewart tries; Jamie Lyon 3 goals; Daly Cherry-Evans field goal) def Gold Coast Titans 12 (James Roberts, Kalifa Faifai Loa tries; Aidan Sezer 2 goals). Half-time: 6-all. Crowd: 11,940. On report: Jamie Lyon (Sea Eagles, 8th minute).
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