Titans v Sea Eagles: Five key points
Titans' big test still to come, Peats revels in starting role, Manly's injury woes worsen and Jake Trbojevic setting right example for struggling Sea Eagles.
Titans start crucial month on right foot
Gold Coast coach Neil Henry knew that any momentum generated from three wins on the trot would be all but extinguished should his team drop a second game in a row and has pin-pointed the next three weeks as a crucial period of their season.
Now inside the top eight heading into Round 16 this weekend the Titans face virtual 'four-point' games against the Raiders (home) and Warriors (away) before the second of their byes in Round 18 and a rarely trodden path to finals football.
The Titans are one spot behind the seventh-placed Raiders ahead of their clash at Cbus Super Stadium on Sunday and ahead of the Warriors only on points differential but Henry says they cannot look any further than the fortnight in front of them.
"It was really important, especially after last week's game," Henry said of their 22-12 loss to the Eels in Darwin.
"I thought we were out-enthused and we were playing a team that had just come off the bye. Our challenge now on the six-day turnaround is to play the Raiders who have had the bye this weekend and will come up here full of running.
"If you start worrying about different scenarios you lose focus on what you need to do. Home games you want to win anyway and then we've got a trip over to the Warriors.
"We could look ahead to say Raiders, Warriors, bye and it's a crucial time with four competition points on offer.
"Very tight competition, that's how it is, and we had a little ruin of three games and it was important that we arrested that tonight and then didn't go to two losses."
Peats shift to starting team pays dividends
After three games playing off the bench Nathan Peats was promoted to the Titans starting team on Monday night and the impact was immediate.
Against a Manly team hoping to build confidence by playing with positive intent early Peats got off his line in defence to make some big shots on Sea Eagles prop Darcy Lussick in particular and his ability to play beyond the advantage line in attack got the Titans forwards rolling down-field and getting quick play-the-balls.
His energy and competitiveness will be vital for the Titans as they push for a top-eight finish at the end of the season and Peats said he felt good to be able to start the game for the first time as a Titan.
"I found out a bit earlier in the week which was good but the most important thing was to get the win," Peats said.
"I thought we started off really well – we went a bit quiet towards the end of the first half and early in the second half – but found a way to win still and that's the two points and what's important."
Manly's injury woes worsen
Four of their most experienced players are already sidelined but the news only got worse for the Sea Eagles with Matt Parcell and Liam Knight both suffering significant injuries in the 20-point loss to the Titans. Originally named at five-eighth, Lyon withdrew with a hamstring injury that could keep him out of next Monday's clash with the Cowboys while Parcell (hamstring) and debutant Knight (ankle) picked up injuries during the game on the Gold Coast.
Coach Trent Barrett is hopeful that Daly Cherry-Evans could make his return from an ankle injury in Townsville and that Dylan Walker will get through Wednesday night's Origin match unscathed to give his youthful team a much needed injection of experience.
"The big thing we are missing is a lot of experience and we're missing key players in key positions," said Barrett, who also confirmed that Tom Trbojevic and Cherry-Evans would need ankle surgery at the end of the season.
"We're down our top three halves, you're missing Nate Myles your most experienced player, you're missing your most experienced outside back in Steve Matai. That's reality, it's not an excuse.
"There were times in that game where we playing well to get back in the game to be behind by 14 points and we had our chances there but losing our hooker at that crucial stage where we had a repeat set and we were down by 14 and attacking the line didn't help.
"That was probably a big turning point for us."
Zillman's class touches at both ends
He has been maligned in some circles but Titans fullback William Zillman produced a classy performance at both ends of the field in a polished display by the Titans attack.
The home side were forced to endure some early Manly pressure on their goal-line and then cut loose with three tries in eight minutes, two of which Zillman delivered the final pass for four-pointers. A cut-out pass gave Anthony Don the time and space to score in the corner and then a nice run off a Tyrone Roberts pass followed by a left-hand flick pass put Josh Hoffman over for a 16-0 lead inside the opening quarter.
Later in the half Zillman came up with a crucial tackle after Manly hooker Parcell split the Titans defence and on the next play doubled back to retrieve a grubber kick by Apisai Koroisau and get back into the field of play.
But it is his developing combinations on sweep plays with halves Ashley Taylor and Tyrone Roberts that promises the greatest upside for the Titans.
"Obviously the coach wants me and Tyrone working together but 'Zilly' chimes whenever he wants and he's doing a great job for us at the back, especially tonight," Taylor said.
"He was unbelievable with the lines and the passes he was throwing and he's gaining in confidence every week which is a bonus for us."
Sea Eagles' young skipper a shining light
Six losses and a mounting injury toll has Manly in a dark place according to coach Trent Barrett but he has encouraged his players to follow the example of 22-year-old Jake Trbojevic in order to fight their way out of it. Captaining the side for the first time on his own, Trbojevic played the entire 80 minutes, ran for 152 metres and made 50 tackles and looked close to tears as he fronted up for the post-match press conference.
The combination of exhaustion and a team that is battling a horror injury toll to try and find a way to win seems almost too much for one so young to be burdened with but Barrett is adamant he possesses the character the rest of the club needs to follow.
"He leads by example. He was a standout for us," Barrett said as he sat alongside his young skipper. "He's a player that everyone respects in our club. As a player I'd like the qualities Jake's got throughout our whole squad. Moving forward if we can have 30 guys in our club with the same moral standings that this bloke's got we'll be doing well.
"You people and the fans don't see how hard guys like Jake and the rest of the players work. And they're up against it and it's bloody hard."
The Mona Vale junior said that while it was an honour to lead the Sea Eagles into battle the pain of the loss was the over-riding emotion on the night.
"Obviously it was a big honour for me to get to captain Manly but would really just love a win at the moment," Trbojevic said. "Great honour for me, growing up as a local, really proud, but give it all back for a win at the moment."