The 15th-placed Wests Tigers gave the high-flying Sea Eagles a scare on Sunday afternoon before the class of Manly saw them coast home 28-16 at Lottoland.
Origin stars again back up to show their worth
Not for the first time this season, a weekend following Origin has seen a host of players backing up from the interstate fixture to be among the best for their clubs.
On Sunday, Manly lock Jake Trbojevic scored a match-sealing try in another high-quality effort while Tigers pair Aaron Woods and James Tedesco were immense for their teams.
Woods managed the rare feat of playing the whole 80 minutes in the front row, finishing with a match-high 197 metres plus 37 tackles while Tedesco managed 175 metres and seven tackle busts.
Woods's workload was exacerbated by an early injury to hooker Jacob Liddle and a concussion just before half-time to back-rower Joel Edwards.
"I wasn't planning to play him 80 but hats off to him, that's the reality of the modern day game, especially with eight interchanges, if you lose players," coach Ivan Cleary said.
"We lost Jacob Liddle right at the start of the game and Joel Edwards as well. Aaron did really well and a few other guys were out there longer than they would have expected."
Woods admitted it was "pretty hard" just four days after a tough Origin loss.
"It's been a pretty draining couple of days losing [Origin] and coming here," Woods said.
Manly start to think top four and eye further improvement
Sunday's win pushes the Sea Eagles to second on the ladder, with the second-best points differential in the competition and the best attack after 19 rounds.
There are some tough matches through the run home but coach Trent Barrett says he views his team as a genuine top-four threat – however he believes they have been off the boil the past few weeks and can improve.
"We're going to be playing teams [from now on who are] fighting for a top-four finish or fighting to stay in the hunt to jag an eighth spot," Barrett said.
"As soon as Origin finishes the stakes go up and we as a side need to keep improving. That's the aim. I thought we made it quite hard on ourselves at times.
"Our attack's been a bit clunky for a few weeks to be honest. We had the two really wet games, Newcastle and the Warriors, and then we weren't in that game last week [against Penrith] and it's sort of been a bit of a flat spot for us for a few weeks but we've been managing to win which is pleasing. We would have lost those last year.
"The last really good performance we put together was probably Cronulla a month ago but we've managed to tick it over so we've just got to keep going."
Tigers hooker Liddle's season could be over
A dislocated shoulder for promising young Tigers hooker Jacob Liddle – who battled a shoulder complaint earlier in the season – threatens to rub him out for the rest of 2017.
The talented 20-year-old has recently pushed his way into the starting side at Tigers but left the field against Manly after just four minutes clutching a shoulder.
While scans will be needed to determine the extend of the damage, Cleary wasn't optimistic. It would be a huge blow not just for Liddle but also for the club that has seen Matt Ballin retire mid-season due to a chronic knee issue.
"He's dislocated his shoulder so it's not great," Cleary said.
"He'll get scans and hope the damage isn't too bad but he's going to be missing – he'd be unlikely to be back this year I'd say."
Cleary was less concerned for back-rower Joel Edwards, who suffered yet another head knock.
"I don't think it was too bad. He has had a few but I think it was one of those ones where, you're not good enough to come back on but he seems OK. We'll obviously monitor him and see how he goes the next few days," Cleary added.
Manly goal-kicking issue needs to be sorted
In the past fortnight, the Sea Eagles have used Dylan Walker (0/1), Api Koroisau (0/1), Matt Wright (0/1) and now skipper Daly Cherry-Evans (4/5) as goal-kickers.
Wright is the first-string option and is kicking at almost 80 per cent this season but is battling a leg issue that hampers his kicks. Cherry-Evans, the fourth kicker used in as many attempts when he missed his first of the day on Sunday, ended up with promising figures against the Tigers but personally hopes to see Wright back at the tee sooner than later.
"[Wright] has got a problem with his leg, it's affecting his goal-kicking," Barrett said.
"He had it last week as well but 'Chez' (Cherry-Evans) has come in and nailed a few which was handy.
"The skipper stepped up and wanted to take them and nailed the one from the sideline which was handy. But it is a huge part of the game, four instead of six is massive.
"If we had've gone out to 12-nil at the beginning it might have been a different [game]. It's something that's an area that we'll need to look at. Matty Wright is our first-choice kicker but if he's injured, Chez has done a good job."
Wests Tigers improve but still not enough
To be leading one of the best teams of 2017 on their home patch with a quarter of the game remaining took some fine work from the 15th-placed Tigers and while it didn’t net them two competition points, coach Ivan Cleary was at least buoyed by some promising signs.
"We were looking pretty good after we scored in the second half [to make it 16-8]," Cleary said.
"A couple of errors in our own end and weren't quite finishing off our sets good enough and they had all the ball and did a really good job in terms of building pressure in the last 25 minutes.
"Even then we were still [in it], at 20-16 we absorbed all that and still had an opportunity to get the cash but couldn't come up with the right play. It seemed like the ball wasn't quite bouncing our way.
"I was actually really proud of the boys. They had 14 more completed sets than us which is unbelievable. They did well but we still hung in there and were still competing right at the end. We still could have won the game in the last 10 minutes.
"We've got to be able to control our ball and the way the sets finish a little bit better."