One side was wearing maroon, the other blue, and Daly Cherry-Evans would've sent a scare through both state camps as he led the Sea Eagles to an impressive 32-10 win over the Bulldogs before leaving the field with a knee injury minutes into the second half.
The Queensland number seven, who had been in doubt all week with a knee injury sustained in the brutal opening Origin encounter, was a class above as he engineered three tries in eight minutes leading into halftime. But he had the entire Sunshine state on tenterhooks when he left the field and didn't return after Sam Kasiano threw his 123-kilo frame at the legs of the Manly half as he kicked downfield.
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Early reports suggested Cherry-Evans was kept off resting the same left knee he injured in Origin largely as a precaution and was prepared to enter the fray if the Bulldogs got a sniff of a comeback win, but the news would nonetheless have Maroons coach Mal Meninga concerned given he has already lost first choice halfback Cooper Cronk for the series.
Kasiano was placed on report for the ugly 44th minute incident, which is likely to come under scrutiny from the match review committee given the NRL's dim view of taking out a kicker in the air, while Jorge Taufua was also placed on report for kneeing Sam Perrett as the Sea Eagles took out a hard fought contest in front of a hardy 9,235 supporters.
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With the Brookvale pitch resembling a dog's breakfast no quarter was given by either side in the physical opening exchanges, and it was Dogs' winger Mitch Brown who was first to trouble the scorers in the 17th minute, stepping his way through after quick hands from Tim Lafai gave the flank man enough space down the left edge to work his over the stripe from 10 metres out.
But just as the Bulldogs went tit, the Sea Eagles responded with tat in the form of Steve Matai's tenth try of the year. The four-pointer came via a bit of fancy foot skills from Cherry-Evans, who grubbered through the line twice before Krisnan Inu failed to clean up the skidding ball and an unmarked Matai was found to level the scores at 6-all in the 29th minute.
From the ensuing kickoff it was golden boots Cherry-Evans who again had the competition leaders under the pump, forcing a repeat set with a deft punt into the in-goal, and reserve prop Jesse Sene-Lefao followed up with a first-career try to remember, scooping an offload up inches from the turf before crashing over under the sticks to push the Sea Eagles in front for the first time six minutes from the break.
The Brookvale faithful needn't have bothered taking their seats, as they were back on their feet within 90 seconds courtesy of a third try for the half to Peta Hiku, again set up by Cherry-Evans, who broke the line on halfway to send the right-edge combination of Jamie Lyon and Hiku away and push Manly to an 18-6 lead at the oranges.
While the departure of Cherry-Evans threatened to de-rail the Sea Eagles with over half an hour to play, halves partner Kieran Foran stepped into the playmaking void with ease, laying on a 50th minute try for Brett Stewart, whose touchdown inches inside the touch-in-goal sent the home side out to a 26-6 lead.
The Bulldogs struck back to keep themselves within unlikely striking distance through a try in the right corner to Inu, but a second try to Stewart, again from the boot of Foran put the ice on an impressive win for the Sea Eagles that sees them draw level with the Bulldogs on 18 points at the top of the competition ladder.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 32 (B Stewart 2, S Matai, J Sene-Lefao, P Hiku, tries; J Lyon 6 goals) defeated Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 10 (M Brown, K Inu tries; T Hodkinson 1 goal) at Brookvale Oval. Crowd: 9,235