Ben and DCE: A tale of two halves
Looking more teen wolf than teen idol, Ben Hunt piloted his team to the top of the Telstra Premiership ladder on Friday night as the man anointed the Maroons' next No.7 dealt with the divide he had caused in a state that very rarely turns on one of their own.
Two men with aspirations of succeeding Cooper Cronk as Queensland's chief playmaker enter the second half of the season at complete opposite ends of the table as Hunt's Broncos clinically disposed of Daly Cherry-Evans's Sea Eagles 44-10 in an exact replica of the scoreline when these two teams met in Round 1, 1988.
As Manly celebrated day three of #7DaysofDCE, Hunt went about showing just how far he has come from the "nightmare" Wayne Bennett saw coming through the ranks as a teenager before embarking on his six-year coaching sojourn in Wollongong and Newcastle.
Although Cherry-Evans was brave and at times brilliant in his first game back from the injury that kept him out of Origin I, it was Hunt who engineered a near perfect first 40 minutes from the home side with his judicious kicking game and tenacity.
More than the bomb that led to the opening try for Justin Hodges, it was Hunt's long kicking game in the opening exchanges that allowed the Broncos to ground Manly into the Suncorp Stadium turf, opening up a 20-0 lead before Manly could get themselves into the contest.
He showed wonderful desire to not only secure possession but steal a try for himself in the 15th minute and then celebrated Corey Oates's defensive stop on Jorge Taufua in the 72nd minute with just as much exuberance.
He's becoming the type of player many predicted he would be as 2008 under-20s player of the year and Bennett credited his development for his team's lofty standing through 13 rounds.
"He was a nightmare; hugely talented but totally unpredictable," Bennett said of a young Hunt. "It's a credit to the way we're playing the way he's playing to be honest with you.
"His kicking game is so much improved and so is his discipline out there to make that happen for us.
"It's a crucial part of the good teams. To be a good team... those fifth and last-play options have got to be absolutely on the money. His improvement has helped us to be better because he's got his fifth and last play options better. It's a whole variety of things that he's doing."
Cherry-Evans will have more memorable nights on the most hallowed rugby league turf in Queensland than the flogging his team copped on Friday.
Every touch of the ball was greeted by a chorus of boos in the wake of his decision to renege on a deal with the Titans to re-sign with Manly on Wednesday, a welcome that coach Geoff Toovey knows will be even frostier on the Gold Coast in Round 18.
"I thought it was quite tame to be honest with you," Toovey said of DCE's reception. "It may be a bit different on the Gold Coast but he's a quality player and a quality Queenslander so I don't think they'll hold too much against him for too long.
"It must be difficult for him but within himself he feels settled now, which is good, and I thought he played a fairly reasonable game tonight and I think he'll only get better."
It seems odd to think that a week in which you signed a "lifetime contract" worth millions of dollars could be a difficult one but Bennett had no doubt that the attention the Manly No.7 has been under would be taking something of a toll.
"He's been a headline for a month and it all got ramped up again this week so you get the reaction you all expect he's going to get," Bennett said.
"You can't get the amount of publicity he's got and think you can run out there and everyone's going to clap you.
"It would be a tough time in his life; it's not what you want as a football player, where he is at the moment.
"All the guys that know him think he's a great guy and they all support him and what the fans think, that's another matter."