Scrappy Dogs edge injury-hit Manly
The Bulldogs have overcome a lack of fluency in attack to run away from a decimated Manly outfit missing a host of injured first graders, piling on four second-half tries in a 28-16 win.
Bulldogs v Sea Eagles: Five key points
Manly not drawn on Cherry-Evans saga
Lyon, Foran add to Manly's injury woes
WATCH: Mbye finishes an incredible team try
WATCH: Full match highlights
WATCH: Bulldogs press conference
WATCH: Sea Eagles press conference
Match stats, scores, highlights
Manly had somehow stayed in the game at just 10-8 at half-time despite being completely outplayed as the Dogs squandered numerous opportunities but fell away in the final quarter of the game.
Makeshift centre Moses Mbye and maligned five-eighth Josh Reynolds each turned in arguably their best games of the year, Reynolds laying on three tries and Mbye setting up one try and scoring another. Prolific winger Curtis Rona bagged a double to take his season tally to eight in seven games.
Manly had been struck yet another injury blow on game day with five-eighth Kieran Foran ruled out prior to kick-off with a hamstring strain. In the reshuffle, skipper Jamie Lyon moved to the halves with NSW Cup captain, 2008 premiership-winner and former Test winger David Williams recalled on the wing for his first NRL game in almost a year.
Williams last played first grade in a one-point win over the Knights at Brookvale in Round 10 last year but and had few opportunities in his recall. The two new faces meant Manly have now used 27 players in 2015 – only one fewer than in their entire 2014 campaign.
Manly coach Geoff Toovey should probably have been contemplating buying a lottery ticket when his side went to the sheds at halftime down by just two points despite having been comprehensively outplayed.
The Sea Eagles repeatedly invited their opponents on the attack with simple errors and penalties and it was only the home side's lack of fluency in attack, producing forward passes and dropped balls with the try line begging, that kept Manly in it at the break.
Reynolds had been the star of the first 40 in his best game of the year, producing a good floating cut-out in the first minute straight after a Willie Mason knock-on from the first hit up of the game to put Curtis Rona over for his seventh try of the year on just the second play of the game.
After the game Manly coach Geoff Toovey lamented the woeful start.
"I don't want to sugar coat it but it was a terrible start to the game. We dropped the ball off the kick-off, I think it was 10-nil after eight minutes," he said.
"It was quite traumatic in the coaches box as you'd imagine. it's just not good enough. They fought their way back but unfortunately we made some very poor decisions defensively and individually we just weren't up to it."
Reynolds helped create the second with a good run and pass when Chase Stanley ran through some ragged left-edge defence but it was all frustration for the Dogs from that point with Aiden Tolman held up, Rona dropping a Hodkinson chip with the in-goal open, and Lichaa's money-ball for a possible Reynolds try ruled forward.
Under-siege Manly half Cherry-Evans, carrying what looked to be a troubling right leg injury, dragged his side back into the game fielding his own grubber for a try and defusing several Reynolds chips towards the Manly-in-goal.
A penalty goal right on half-time allowed Manly to go in just two behind at the break.
They somehow hit the lead through Peta Hiku shortly after the break but from there it was mostly one-way traffic.
The Dogs hit back immediately when Pritchard's dummy-half run was supported by Mbye, who then found Pritchard in support, before Rona earned his second shortly after by finishing off a set-piece.
Manly were still a chance at 20-12 but a dropped ball while on the attack was scooped up by Trent Hodkinson who found Josh Jackson. His long run was supported by Curtis Rona who in turn found Mbye. Cherry-Evans defied his injured leg to be the last man chasing and almost had his man, dragging Mbye down short of the line but the centre used his strength to keep his arm-carrying ball off the ground, and broke free of the tackle to put the match beyond Manly's reach.
There was a bizarre hit-back when Lyon's downfield kick shot back in off the cross-bar, eventually resulting in a Steve Matai try, but it was too little too late and a try to Corey Thompson in the 77th minute stretched the final score out to 28-16.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 28 (Rona 2, Stanley, Pritchard, Mbye, Thompson tries; Hodkinson 2 goals) defeated Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 16 (Cherry-Evans, Hiku, Matai tries; Lyon 2 goals). Crowd: 13,568.