Brett Stewart has kept Manly's season alive with a sparkling display that saw the Sea Eagles record their biggest win of the season against the Titans at Cbus Super Stadium on Monday night.
Coming into the game in 14th position in the Telstra Premiership and with the worst attack in the NRL, the Sea Eagles took flight in an eight-minute spell late in the first half that kept the mathematicians at bay for at least one more week, the visitors running away with a 38-6 demolition.
An error-riddled performance from the Titans gifted the Sea Eagles every opportunity to pile on points and although halfback Daly Cherry-Evans was enemy No.1 on the Gold Coast he quietened the home fans in the 10th minute and kept them that way until the final two minutes when Nathaniel Peteru scored on debut for the Titans.
The 32-point win eclipsed the 30-10 scoreline the Sea Eagles put on the Knights in Round 10 and was just the third time this season some of the most talented footballers in the NRL had managed to put 30 on a team as they moved above the Titans on the ladder and within four points of the top eight.
For the Titans it brought back memories of their 40-0 hiding to the Panthers in Round 2 as their lack of direction, errors and ill-discipline for basically the entire game failed to enable them to build pressure of any significance across the entire 80 minutes.
Leading 20-0 at half-time Manly were quick to extend their lead five minutes in when Kieran Foran finished off a 60-metre movement started by Cherry-Evans and continued by Jamie Lyon who did a number on opposite Nene Macdonald to break free on halfway.
They didn't add to their tally until 13 minutes from full-time when Willie Mason scored his first try in exactly 12 months and with eight minutes left used good luck and good management for Steve Matai to bust through.
As Matai got to Titans fullback David Mead the ball came flying forward before it was collected by Tom Trbojevic who crossed untouched in front of a stunned Titans defence, the video referee seeing no reason to overturn the on-field decision to award a try.
The mere mention of Cherry-Evans's name before the teams ran out brought loud jeers from the hearty fans on hand but it only took until the first tackle of the game before he was in the action, involved on the tackle on Luke Douglas from the kick-off.
Every time he touched the ball the Titans faithful found their voice but on the back of some errors and ill-discipline from the home side he soon gave the Manly fans something to cheer about, laying on the first try for Tom Trbojevic in the 10th minute with a perfectly timed floating cut-out pass.
The Titans worked their way back into the contest with some concerted pressure on the Sea Eagles line but their lack of genuine class in the halves – ironic on this of all nights – saw each attacking raid ultimately come unstuck.
Conversely, when the Sea Eagles were gifted possession and territory on the back of five first half penalties the worst attack in the NRL started to find their groove. Having inched their way to a four-point advantage Brett Stewart inspired three tries in the space of eight minutes to give his team a 20-0 advantage at half-time.
Stewart laid on the first of Jorge Taufua's two tries with some clever work from dummy-half close to the line, a fake to the open side and a quick switch back to the blind putting Taufua's much bigger frame opposite James Roberts with only a metre to the try-line.
The Manly No.1 went from provider to try-scorer four minutes later when he sliced through courtesy of a smart play between Cherry-Evans and Jamie Lyon and then put Taufua away for his second after making a break deep into Titans territory and releasing his winger to score in the south-east corner.
The Titans are likely to be boosted by the return of Greg Bird and Kane Elgey when they travel to Newcastle on Saturday while Manly coach Geoff Toovey has to find a spot for Peta Hiku in a backline that is finally starting to fire.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 38 (Jorge Taufua 2, Tom Trbojevic 2, Brett Stewart, Kieran Foran, Willie Mason tries; Jamie Lyon 5 goals) def. Gold Coast Titans 6 (Nathaniel Peteru try; Kevin Gordon goal). Half-time: Manly 20-0. Crowd: 9,632.