Sea Eagles down Sharks at Brookvale
The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles have momentarily bounced off the bottom of the NRL ladder outclassing the Cronulla Sharks 28-16 in front of a healthy crowd on a perfect winter's evening at Brookvale Oval.
The victory puts the Sea Eagles into 14th position on the ladder for a day until the Knights are awarded two competition points for their bye on Monday.
Meanwhile the Sharks will remain agonizingly close to cracking the top eight, remaining on 18 competition points with a host of other sides.
The Sea Eagles, who have thus far used 28 different players in their first grade team, finally enjoyed a near full-strength backline with skipper Jamie Lyon's late inclusion.
In his first game back since their Round 13 loss to the Broncos, Lyon provided a stabilising influence, while Daly Cherry-Evans once again supplied flair and attacking potency in a game Manly wouldn't have expected him to play with the Origin decider around the corner.
However the standout in a star-studded Manly backline was Jorge Taufua.
The big Tongan winger benefited from a superb assist for his first try, assisted himself to score his second, then pulled off an amazing tap-back to assist Steve Matai for a 45th minute try.
He would later put the cherry on top of a brilliant performance, completing his hat-trick and putting the game to bed with a late try off the back of some perfect Manly backline play in the 73rd minute.
Manly had a firm control of the first half but the Sharks certainly weren't poor, the 10-4 half-time score an accurate reflection of how the early stages played out.
But the second half was a different story.
While the Sea Eagles finished the game just as well as they started it, the Sharks appeared to lack direction and effort as the game wore on.
The scorers were first troubled in the seventh minute as, just moments after saving a certain try with a terrific ball-and-all tackle, Brett Stewart showed his poise to set up the game's first try.
After dummying out wide to throw off the Sharks' right-edge defenders, he fired a pass out to Taufua who is rarely stopped from such short range when Sam Kasiano isn't around.
Michael Gordon kicked out on the ensuing kick-off gifting the Sea Eagles perfect field position right away. However the Sharks managed to hold Manly out and fought themselves back into the contest over the next 15 minutes.
But it wasn't enough to keep the Sea Eagles out as they put another four points on the board with Taufua getting his second in the 20th minute, knocking a cross-field kick down to himself before recovering possession and spinning over the line.
Ben Barba came on for Pat Polini a couple of minutes later, pushing Jeff Robson to the hooking role while Chris Heighington was penalised for a ugly lifting tackle on Josh Starling.
Sosaia Feki put the Sharks on the scoreboard in the 37th minute, diving over in the corner after some swift ball movement out to the Sharks' left hand edge. Leutele's flick pass out to his wing partner was especially impressive in the movement that gave Cronulla a deserved four points heading into sheds.
At the resumption of play, Kieran Foran immediately went down with what looked to be a knee injury, but remained on the field to see Steve Matai go over soon after as this time Taufua turned provider, knocking a bouncing ball back into the hands of Matai flying through.
In the 54th minute Manly struck a crucial blow with Daly Cherry-Evans slicing through a disjointed Sharks defence. Tom Symonds once again showed his sleight of hand, supplying DCE with a perfect short ball as the holes opened up in the opposition defence.
Stewart extended himself to his absolute maximum length reaching out to plant the ball over for his customary Brookie four-pointer. However replays denied 'the Prince' a try as they showed he'd come up millimetres short.
Andrew Fifita's late try gave the Sharks some hope, however he would knock the ball on moments later to stifle any chance.
Taufua blew the score-line out moments later to secure his hat-trick.
Once again Stewart was the provider, setting up his big winger with a perfect cut-out pass to beat a rushing defence.
Fifita scored again in the final pay to give the Sharks a flattering 28-16 score-line.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 28 (Taufua 3, Matai, Cherry-Evans tries; Lyon 4 goals) defeated Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 16 (A Fifita 2, Feki tries; Gordon 2 goals) at Brookvale Oval. Crowd: 14,881.