A blind-sided Garth Brennan has expressed his dismay at a sub-standard Gold Coast Titans performance against the Sea Eagles that he said at times amounted to a game of "boys against men".
A 20-2 lead at half-time was the backbone of a 30-12 Manly win that puts them on the verge of the top four and consigns the Titans to the bottom two of the ladder for at least the next fortnight.
Unlike in other losses this season, the Titans were beaten to the punch in the opening minutes and never recovered. Two late tries to late inclusion Phil Sami came when the two premiership points were out of reach.
With a mid-season review from Gold Coast Head of Performance and Culture Mal Meninga imminent, the timing of the Titans' worst performance of the year is less than ideal as Brennan lamented their inability to engage in the contest.
"I thought it was probably our poorest performance of the year so far," Brennan said bluntly.
"We lost the ruck in the first half. It was a bit like boys playing against men there at times.
"They ran harder, they tackled harder, the play-the-balls were too fast. Two of their tries were off quick play-the-balls and they just barged over, the other one was a one-on-one miss.
"We've been in the fight in every game and today I don't think we were in it.
"Right from the start they rolled us down the ruck very easily. That was the disappointing part.
"That hasn't been us all year. I can't remember the last time we put a performance like that in. It would have been round two or three last year when St George [Illawarra] gave us a walloping.
"This year we've had some things go against us but we've been in the fight and that's why today is so disappointing. I didn't see that coming.”
As he addressed his playing group post-game Brennan could not help but notice the players in suits standing around the room.
Dale Copley was a late withdrawal after Tyrone Peachey was ruled out on Friday, the pair joining the likes of Ryan James, Jai Arrow, Keegan Hipgrave and Ash Taylor as players Brennan would have liked to have had in his playing squad.
Hipgrave and Taylor will be available for selection against the Panthers in round 17 following the bye but Brennan said that he won’t pick his star halfback until he is in the right frame of mind to return.
"I'd love him back in the team, he's our marquee player," Brennan said.
"He's such an important part of our club and such an important player. He's your halfback, he's your general and I want him back in the team, but I'm not going to rush him back for the sake of the team.
"His welfare needs to be the most important thing for me and when he's right and I get the tick off the specialist to say that he is right and he's ready to come back and play some footy, that's when he'll play.
"The most important thing for me at the moment is making sure that Ash is right.
"The guys that went out there today have held their gloves up previously and I thought they could have been better today."