An explosive 16-0 start by Manly proved just enough against a late-surging Parramatta at Lottoland on Saturday night with the battered Sea Eagles clinging to a desperate 22-18 win.
A George Jennings try in the final 15 seconds and a declined shot at goal gave the Eels an all-or-nothing final shot at glory but could not conjure the miracle as a short kick-off from Daly Cherry-Evans sealed the deal.
The Eels totally self-combusted in a horror opening to the match with an energetic Manly, led well by Cherry-Evans, taking full toll.
Injuries to Moses Suli (shoulder) and Reuben Garrick (HIA), plus HIAs to the likes of Taniela Paseka and Lachlan Croker, as well as plenty of fatigue and an avalanche of second half errors, made life very difficult for Manly but a monster sideline tackle from Brad Parker on a rampaging Maika Sivo that rocked the big Fijian all but put the exclamation mark on a tough and gritty win before the Jennings try threatened a miracle.
Match: Sea Eagles v Eels
Round 10 -
Venue: Lottoland, Sydney
The rot started very early with George Jennings – in his first NRL appearance for the year in place of an injured Blake Ferguson – dropping it cold with his first touch. Marty Taupau burst through Nathan Brown and Jai Field a few plays later for an early 6-0 lead.
Dylan Brown put a kick out on the full and after a couple of fresh sets at the Eels line Danny Levi was denied his team's second thanks to a double movement.
It was little reprieve for the Eels with Sivo pushed into touch on tackle one in the 14th minute and Cherry-Evans immediately strolling through a yawning gap between Dylan Brown and Shaun Lane.
Taupau scores in milestone club game
Gutherson hoofed the restart well over the dead ball line to put Manly immediately back on the attack and there were no problems for Levi at the second time of asking as he strolled over from dummy-half, again between Lane and Brown.
Staring at a 16-0 deficit after barely as many minutes, the shellshocked Eels started to get into the grind with Nathan Brown in particular clawing some momentum back and a dropout forced by Dylan Brown led to Michael Jennings streaking past Manly's right-side defence to finally get his team on the board.
A 16-4 half-time scorecard would have been a good result for the Eels but there was one more blow to come as a messy six-again before halftime put Manly in range and a Cherry-Evans grubber sat up perfectly for Joel Thompson to make it 22-4 at the break.
The Eels were by far the more dangerous side in the first 15 minutes of the second half but repeatedly brought themselves undone with errors; Dylan Brown twice coughed it up on the attack and Reed Mahoney fumbled at dummy-half on the Manly line straight after a set restart.
Manly were finally starting to get some momentum back when an attempted Taupau offload ended up in the hands of Waqa Blake, who ran the length of the field to score, though a second missed conversion from Gutherson left the score at 22-8.
Cherry-Evans squeezes through close to the ruck
The Eels continued to self-sabotage with more errors while on the attack, including a fumble over the line from the otherwise monumental Reagan Campbell-Gillard when he was trying to clean up a Mahoney grubber. They also failed to run at an injured Suli, back on the field due to a Reuben Garrick HIA.
For their part, Manly continually invited the Eels to have another crack with an almost complete failure to complete a set through long stretches of the second half with Curtis Sironen (twice), Cherry-Evans, Suli and Taufua coughing it up, and finally it finally cost them via a second try for Michael Jennings running in Suli's channel.
Campbell-Gillard was held inches short at the end of the very next set with the Eels still eight points behind with five minutes to play.
Michael Jennings joins the top ten try scorers of all time with his second
The late miracle very briefly emerged as a possibility before the Manly captain snuffed it out.
The result leaves the Eels a single differential point ahead of Melbourne atop the NRL ladder and hands Penrith a chance to take the lead on Sunday, with Manly moving to a share of eighth and in 10th on for-and-against.
The Eels will be sweating on lock Nathan Brown (corked hip) for the short turnaround into the Wests Tigers next week but hope to welcome back all of Ryan Matterson (fractured thumb), Ferguson (swollen knee) and Mitch Moses (calf).
Arthur blasted the soft start by his side and flatly rejected any hint of complacency or getting ambushed.
"We knew exactly what we were walking into," he said.
NRL Bunker confirms try to Blake
"We were prepared for it but we weren't prepared to do anything about it. Three tries in 10 minutes at the start, the attitude wasn't there from the start."
Manly coach Des Hasler was just happy his team held on.
"In the second half there were periods there where we put too much pressure on ourselves, against a side like Parramatta you can't afford to give them too much possession and field position," Hasler said.