Manly skipper Daly Cherry-Evans continues to build arguably the best season of his career, guiding the Sea Eagles to a come-from-behind 28-16 win over Wests Tigers at Lottoland on Sunday.
Three straight tries either side of half-time put the unfancied Tigers in the lead with just over 20 minutes to go in the contest but Cherry-Evans – who was responsible for Manly's fast two-try start to the game – reasserted control along with young stars Jake and Tom Trbojevic to seal the result that shores up the club's top-four billing with seven rounds to play.
For the determined Tigers, for 60 minutes it was arguably as good as they've played since coach Ivan Cleary took over earlier in the year with Blues stars Aaron Woods and James Tedesco enormous backing up from Origin and halves Luke Brooks and Tui Lolohea again combining well.
Woods played all 80 minutes at prop and finished with a match-high 194 metres and 37 tackles while Tedesco was a constant threat with 176 metres and seven tackle busts.
For the visitors to keep it as close as they did despite losing hooker Jacob Liddle after just four minutes with a dislocated shoulder and back-rower Joel Edwards to concussion just before half-time was even more impressive.
Manly's fast start kicked off when Cherry-Evans opened up the Tigers with a lovely short ball for Shaun Lane to score in the seventh minute.
The snubbed Maroons hopeful then launched a stunning long-range 40/20 kick to set Manly back on the attack which set the scene for fullback Tom Trbojevic to fire a perfect spiral cut-out ball for Matt Wright to double the score.
Missed conversions from Wright and then Cherry-Evans kept the Tigers in the hunt and they looked to have hit back through a brilliant run close to the line from Tedesco but the try was overturned on video review when it was found Woods, standing in the defensive line, had denied Jake Trbojevic a chance to make the tackle.
But when Frank Winterstein fell off a belligerent run from Joel Edwards, the Tigers back-rower's determined 24th-minute score got the margin back to within two.
A poor effort shortly after from Manly centre Brian Kelly, who let a Luke Brooks grubber slip through his fingers, allowed opposite man Esan Marsters to clean up the scraps and earn the visitors a two-point lead heading into the break.
They extended their lead in the 46th minute when Luke Brooks's attacking grubber bounced off the Manly post and back into his hands and an upset was brewing at 16-8.
That was as good as it got though; a series of attacking sets from Manly finally paid dividends when Wright bagged his double from a simple overlap play and Aku Uate finally reclaimed the lead for the home team shortly after when he blasted through the Tigers' middle then wrong-footed Tedesco to score under the posts.
Manly's lead went beyond a converted try in the 71st minute when a lovely sequence of play from Cherry-Evans to five-eighth Blake Green sent Tom Trbojevic into space close to the line, and his older brother supported for a well-earned four-pointer.
A late penalty goal stretched the lead to 28-16 to send the packed 14,128-strong crowd home happy.
Manly Sea Eagles 28 (Wright 2, Lane, Uate, J Trbojevic tries; Cherry-Evans 4 goals) defeated Wests Tigers 16 (Edwards, Marsters, Brooks tries; Lolohea 2 goals) at Lottoland. Half time: Wests Tigers 10-8. Crowd: 14,128.
NRL.com's unofficial votes: 3 points - Daly Cherry-Evans; 2 points - Tom Trbojevic; 1 point - Tuimoala Lolohea.