The key points from Manly's 38-6 demolition of the Titans on Monday night, with Daly Cherry-Evans overcoming the crowd's boos to help inspire a Sea Eagles victory.
Star-studded reception for 'DCE'
Opening the night at Cbus Super Stadium with Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" bursting out of the stadium PA was a not-so-subtle insight into the reception waiting star Manly half Daly Cherry-Evans. Facing the team he courted and then spurned for the first time, any Gold Coast hostility towards Cherry-Evans was muted by a frosty Monday night but when the team was read out there was scant regard for any of the Sea Eagles before 'DCE' was roundly booed by the boisterous crowd in attendance.
Some artists had been hard at work over the weekend with signs proclaiming 'Nothing Manly about DCE' and 'Boo, Go Home DCE' but there were a number of pro-Manly signs in support of their No.7. His first touch in the second minute saw the crowd find their voice but before long the Manly fans in attendance had reason to cheer, Cherry-Evans laying on the first try of the night for Tom Trbojevic in the 10th minute. When the Titans players finally got their hands on him Ryan James and Nene Macdonald dragged him across the sideline, giving away yet another penalty, and Manly scored from the next set. The booing continued but appeared less heartfelt with every Manly try that was scored.
"He's a real professional, Daly, he takes everything in his stride," said halves partner Kieran Foran. "He knew coming up here he was going to face a bit from the crowd but he just wanted to do his job for the team and put in a really great performance for the side and I thought he did that."
Error-riddled Titans inviting trouble
On plenty of occasions this season the Titans defence has been brave under a weight of territory and possession but with the attitude not quite right on Monday night, those fundamentals led to a flood of points. Rather than using any home ground advantage the Titans gave away the first three penalties of the game to gift Manly momentum and when they did get their hands on the ball they gave it straight back with two errors inside their own 10-metre line after less than eight minutes. They missed 42 tackles, made 10 errors to the Sea Eagles' four and their completion rate was marginally above their league-worst average of 71 per cent.
"It just ended up being errors and penalties," lamented forward Ryan James. "Fourth and fifth tackle penalties were killing us and just piggy-backing them down the field and then we'd drop the ball on tackle one or two and give them the ball in our own half and they were converting them into points. They had their good players back and we just weren't up for the challenge."
NRL's worst attack clicking into gear
It's astonishing to think a team with so many stars could have scored fewer points than any other team in the competition through 17 rounds but on the back of a Brett Stewart masterclass it may not stay that way for long. The right side of Cherry-Evans, Symonds and Lyon threatened often but the left side wasn't to be ignored, the energy of Foran in particular giving his runners plenty of opportunities to push into holes in the Titans defence. Having led 20-0 at half-time the Sea Eagles added three further tries in the second stanza for their highest score and biggest win of the season.
"We were aware at the start of the year that our attack wasn't clicking the way we would have liked but we've been working really hard on it as a group," said five-eighth Kieran Foran. "The coaching staff have been doing extra video sessions with us and working really hard on what we need to improve on and it just seems to be coming together and it's a good confidence booster for the group. It'd be nice to keep scoring that many points but we're aware that we're probably going to be in some tight games so we've got to rely on our defence also and hopefully keep notching the wins."
Manly's true test is yet to come
Disposing of an under-strength Titans team is one thing; knocking over four of the top five teams as the Telstra Premiership currently stands is the next challenge of Manly's finals credentials. Still four points out of the top eight with eight games still to play, the Sea Eagles face the Cowboys (home), Warriors (away), Broncos (home) and Rabbitohs (home) in a month of football that will determine their fate for 2015. It is likely they will need 28 competition points to finish in the top eight, meaning that if they drop more than two of those next four games their season is over.
"We've had a good chat about it, we know there's a lot of work to be done and we've just got to win, it's as simple as that," said Sea Eagles skipper Jamie Lyon. "Every game's going to be do or die pretty much so we've just got to turn up and play our best footy for the last few games."
Added coach Geoff Toovey: "It's the wrong time of the year to be building but we're confident we can make the finals and that's what we're going to do. We can't get too far ahead of ourselves, we're still down the bottom of the table so we need to keep winning and keep producing the goods."
Gold Coast inches closer to a ton of Titans
On the night Jamie Lyon celebrated his 200th game for the Sea Eagles the Titans inched closer towards a landmark of their own: 100 premiership players. Having only joined the club a week earlier on a mid-season transfer from the Warriors, Nathaniel Peteru's entry onto the field saw him become the 99th player to represent the Titans in NRL premiership matches. Going on alphabetical order, Clint Amos was Titan No.1 in March 2007 but given their recent run of injuries coach Neil Henry will be hoping that player No.100 is not unveiled until Round 1, 2016. On a tough night for the home team the performance of Peteru was one of few bright spots, coming up with some clever offloads on the back of some strong charges and backing up a Dave Taylor bust to score his team's only try of the night.