The Sea Eagles were their own worst enemies for much of the match, completing at barely 50 per cent for the first 60 minutes and falling behind 14-4, before surging home to break the hearts of a valiant Knights outfit that defended stoutly but lacked the polish to put Manly away.
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NSW Origin hopeful Jarrod Mullen had looked to be kicking his side to victory with a dominant display with the boot, yet Maroons bench utility DCE had the final word.
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It was only down to Newcastle's lack of fluency that it took them 15 minutes to make the Sea Eagles pay, and when they did it was through a short-side dummy half run from winger Akuila Uate, catching Steve Matai slightly unawares.
The boot of Mullen was perhaps the biggest difference between the two sides as he gave Manly's back three, and in particular Origin hopeful Jorge Taufua, some shaky moments under the high ball.
He repeatedly turned the Manly backs around in general play and grubbered for touch when his side needed proceedings settled down.
Manly halfback Cherry-Evans and fullback Brett Stewart each showed their class with several quality touches but were well marked by the defence as the visitors ground their way to the break still holding that 6-0 advantage.
The home side continued to bury themselves under an avalanche of errors in the second half and the weight of possession almost told when winger David Williams, in his 100th NRL game, spilled a ball in his own in-goal.
It was ruled a double knock on but it mattered little as Newcastle went in to score through Uate from the next set, his 53rd-minute try coming after opposite number Taufua spilled a deft Mullen short kick.
Uate went from hero to villain quickly enough, continuing the theme of wingers struggling under the high ball when he dropped a Cherry-Evans bomb to gift Manly a rare attacking chance.
Their first try of the night, coming amazingly not until the 57th minute, arrived in typical fashion in an otherwise atypical display – through their potent left side. Taufua was the beneficiary, charging over the top of Uate to touch down in the corner and get his side back to 10-4 with around 20 minutes to play.
With Manly finally starting to build some momentum they went for another left-side play next time they got within range but against the run of play, Knights centre Dane Gagai reefed the ball from Matai's grasp and raced 70 metres to score out wide, leaving Manly just 15 minutes to overhaul a 14-4 deficit.
It became 14-8 in slightly bizarre circumstances – both Taufua and Uate missing a Jack Littlejohn attacking bomb but the ball shot into Newcastle's in-goal where Taufua was first to get there and ground the ball, Matai again missing from the touchline, leaving Manly six points behind with 10 minutes to play.
Again it was Manly's potent left edge creating the chances, with Stewart and Littlejohn combining to put Matai into space and allowing Cherry-Evans to launch a cross-field bomb into Newcastle's in-goal.
When James McManus – playing out of position in the centres due to Joey Leilua's absence – fumbled the chance and Jamie Buhrer cleaned up to give Matai a far easier conversion chance, locking the scores up at 14-all with seven minutes remaining.
The inevitable field-goal shootout followed, with Littlejohn and Darius Boyd each missing chances – the latter a very gettable one – before Manly earned themselves one final chance seconds before the final siren.
Newcastle couldn't stop the field goal attempt from Cherry-Evans and were left dejected and down on their haunches as the home side celebrated a win filled more with character than precision.
Manly Sea Eagles 15 (Taufua 2, Buhrer tries; Matai goal, Cherry-Evans field goal) def Newcastle Knights 14 (Uate 2, Gagai tries; Gidley goal). Crowd: 8655.