Sea Eagles v Roosters: Five key points
The Sea Eagles powered home in the second half to claim a crucial 36-18 win over the Roosters that keeps their top four hopes alive and puts a serious dent in the Tricolours' push towards the minor premiership.
Manly's defence stands tall
Having conceded 92 points in a horror two-game stretch, the last thing the Sea Eagles needed was to fall behind on the back of a rapid-fire three-try burst midway through the first half.
But unlike the past fortnight, the team refused to surrender meekly which led to Manly piling on the final 32 points of the game to run out easy winners.
"It was a bit uncharacteristic, the last fortnight, I suppose, but to the players' credit they worked really hard and we got rewarded with the result today," Sea Eagles coach Trent Barrett said.
"I knew if we had a fair share of possession then we'd be OK. The most pleasing thing was our defence. We had two awful weeks and we showed a fair bit of resolve and a lot of character to come back."
Injuries add to Roosters' woes
Sunday's loss was made worse with in-form duo Daniel Tupou (groin) and Sio Siua Taukeiaho (finger) both forced off, while co-captain Jake Friend – who was expected to return from a hand injury – was also left out of the 17.
"It's a bit of a groin. To come off, it's not great," Roosters coach Trent Robinson said of Tupou's situation.
"He's walking around and all that so that's not the end of the world and he walked off so that's a good thing, but coming off, that's not a good sign."
The loss of Taukeiaho was particularly tough to swallow given his monstrous performance against the Cowboys last week, and his short stint seemed to take its toll with the Roosters' bench rotation thrown out of whack.
"He had a compound fracture in his finger," Robinson said. "It broke the skin but hopefully it's not broken. It came out of the skin so therefore he couldn't go back."
Kelly won't be out for long
Trent Barrett expects rookie centre Brian Kelly to work his way back into the NRL side after the Sea Eagles coach opted to drop him in favour of fellow youngster Brad Parker who made the most of his opportunity with a second-half try.
Kelly has been a sound contributor with six tries from 19 appearances in his first season in the top grade, but after being found out defensively in recent weeks Barrett decided it would be for the best to give him a week off.
"Brian has done a tremendous job for us over the past 22 weeks," Barrett said.
"He's never played against men before and I just think there were a couple of things that were creeping into his game that he needs to work on.
"I didn't play him at Blacktown (in the Intrust Super Premiership) for a reason; I just think he was looking a bit tired and needed a spell. He took it really well, he knows what he has to work on and I'll help him with that and he'll make his way back into the side."
Minor premiership could be decided next week
Heading into Sunday's game, the Roosters – who had won six of their past seven matches – appeared the only side capable of dethroning the Melbourne Storm at the top of the Telstra Premiership ladder.
However the result at Lottoland means they are now four points behind Craig Bellamy's side with four rounds remaining.
Quite fittingly, the two teams will square off in Melbourne next week and a Storm win would all but wrap up the minor premiership given their formidable points differential.
Sea Eagles back in top four contention
If results had gone against them in Round 22 the Sea Eagles could have easily fallen out of the top eight; an incredible scenario given they were in third spot just five weeks ago.
Instead, their win – coupled with the Dragons' shock loss to the Rabbitohs – keeps them in seventh spot, just one win behind the third-placed Broncos.
A top-four finish is now well and truly on the cards, and the enormity of Sunday's result wasn't lost on Barrett and the playing group.
"We didn't speak about it too much but we all knew where we sat," he said.
"It gives us a bit of a springboard into the next four games – we can't look past the Tigers next week – but we're two points out of the top four, and who knows?"