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Manly's mish-mashed band of NRL rejects and rookies have them knocking down the door of the top four with a 24-14 upset of Cronulla on their own turf.

The Sea Eagles paid little mind to their share of a combined $5 million of talent watching this battle of the beaches from the stands, though they did have their nervous moments when the Sharks threatened a second-half fightback.

But a nail-biting win to sit behind fourth-placed Canberra on points differential is Manly's reward, with the returns of Daly Cherry-Evans and Tom Trbojevic drawing ever nearer on the horizon.

Steering the Sea Eagles in their absence were Cade Cust on debut and reborn five-eighth Kane Elgey, who kicked Cronulla into submission throughout the first 40 minutes.

Returning big guns Addin Fonua-Blake and Dylan Walker put the boot in too, the latter's every touch booed in his first game back since being found not guilty of domestic violence charges.

It was Walker's 44th minute touchdown that should have sealed the maroon and white ambush, putting a 14-point halftime lead beyond reproach, only for Cronulla to come storming home.

But with uncertainty swirling around both the rep star's future and Brad Fittler's right centre position for NSW, Walker's first outing for 2019 bore no harm to his claims on either front.

Fonua-Blake started the rot for Cronulla from the outset, threatening to power over twice in the first five minutes.

By the eighth he delivered, charging through Cronulla's stretched goal line defence from a Jake Trbojevic short ball.

Josh Dugan doubled down on the Sharks' stumble out of the blocks by sending his resulting kick-off dead in-goal, the first of three errors in an unhappy day for the mulleted veteran.

Cronulla dodged that bullet, then fired one of their own when Kyle Flanagan put boot to ball.

Taking a Paul Gallen offload, the rising playmaker's grubber sat up splendidly for junior Aquinas Colts teammate Bronson Xerri, trimming Manly's lead back to 6-4.

But with 63 per cent of early possession the Sea Eagles couldn't be denied, nor could Brendan Elliott when he went in, then out, then past Josh Morris down the Sharks' left edge.

Without the ball Manly did an even better job, denying four straight sets on their line and holding up Jayden Brailey and Briton Nikora when they got over it.

When Elgey hoiked another bomb high in response and regathered Dugan's fumble to score, the Sea Eagles had themselves a shock 18-4 halftime lead.

Dugan's mistake cleaned up by Elgey

Walker was on hand immediately after the break when Dugan was again in all sorts, adding a third kick to the play and running onto it for Manly's fourth try of the afternoon.

Sharks prop Braden Hamlin-Uele dragged the scoreline back to 24-10 when he barged over from a quick penalty tap.

For much of the second stanza an unlikely Cronulla revival gathered momentum, Manly wilting under a hefty weight of defence.

Newly-minted prime minister and Sharks No.1 ticket holder Scott Morrison was among the home-crowd throng, baying for a repeat of his election night jailbreak.

Matt Prior almost matched Hamlin-Uele with an inspired charge, only for Brendan Elliot's goal line scramble to knock the Steeden loose in the in-goal.

After another few minutes hammering Manly's line, Flanagan's grubber out wide finally breached it, Sosaia Feki on the end of it for a 24-14 deficit.

But for Xerri spilling it cold when unmarked and gunning for the corner with four minutes to go, a grandstand finish was well and truly on.

Nervous moments remained still for Manly. But a gutsy defensive resolve – the 24 tackles in their own 20 metre-zone after halftime – was duly rewarded, eventually.

And they find themselves with cavalry returning and on the cusp of the top four as a result.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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