After making a stunning return from a hamstring injury to spark Manly to an emphatic 36-0 defeat of the Gold Coast Titans in Mudgee, superstar fullback Tom Trbojevic revealed that a dramatic attitude change was behind the team’s turnaround.
Trbojevic, who was playing his first match of the season after tearing his hamstring in February, scored a try, laid on two others and had a hand in a fourth as Manly revived their finals hopes in a lopsided match in Mudgee.
The presence of the representative star lifted every player and the Sea Eagles appeared not only more confident in attack, but also defence, as they held an opposition side scoreless away from Lottoland for the first time since 2014.
Manly coach Des Hasler declared the performance "a start" but it was a remarkable turnaround by his side after conceding 154 points in losing their first four matches of the season before last weekend's 13-12 defeat of the Warriors.
Trbojevic, who admitted it had been hard watching his team-mates go down by big margins, praised the Sea Eagles forwards and said they had got back to playing "tough footy".
“There was an attitude change last week and we just built on that today," Trbojevic said.
"We are certainly not done yet, we have got a long way to go in the season so we will look to keep building.
"That is a good platform but we have got a long way to go. We know we have got a footy side here, we just kind of lost our way in that first month.
Match: Sea Eagles v Titans
Round 6 -
Venue: Glen Willow Oval, Mudgee
"There was a big shift in our attitude last week and we ground out a win. I think that is what we needed. We had to go back to being a tough footy side and we were tough again today."
With Trbojevic leading the way, Manly stormed to a 26-0 lead at halftime and did not concede an error until the 37th minute when winger Rueben Garrick lost the ball running from dummy half near his own line.
The Titans had won three of their opening five matches and scored more than 40 points in wins against North Queensland and Newcastle, as well as a 28-10 defeat of Brisbane, but they had no answer for the Trbojevic-inspired Sea Eagles.
Star Titans forward David Fifita, who scored three tries in last weekend’s 42-16 thrashing of Newcastle, was contained by Manly centre Morgan Harper and managed just one line break in the match.
Tom Trbojevic is everywhere!
Trbojevic carried the ball a game high 187 metres and his 166 metres in the first half was almost as much as the entire Gold Coast starting forwards (171m) combined.
“It is always tough watching and the first four weeks made it even tougher," Trbojevic said.
"There is no other way to put it and that has kind of been the story for me the last little bit so hopefully now I can just get back on the field and keep performing like that, and keep winning games."
Asked about his fitness, Trbojevic said: "There was never going to be an issue with the amount of work I have put in and people have put into me. I knew I was going to be sweet and it was just a matter of getting back out there and playing."
The 24-year-old made an almost immediate impact on the match when he linked with captain Daly Cherry-Evans to put centre Brad Parker over in the 10th minute.
He then backed up a midfield break by hooker Lachlan Croker before passing to Cherry-Evans in the lead up to goalkicking winger Reuben Garrick's 19th minute try.
Tom Trbojevic explodes through a hole
Trbojevic scored a try of his own three minutes later after receiving a perfectly timed pass from rookie second-rower Josh Schuster and taking on fullback opposite AJ Brimson in a determined 25-metre run to try line.
In case Trbojevic hadn't done enough already to make the drive from Sydney’s northern beaches worthwhile for Manly fans in the 6380 crowd, he bought them to their feet when he raced 50 metres down the eastern touchline before sending winger Jason Saab racing away for another try.
"You don’t play the game to score tries but they are always nice," Trbojevic said. "You play the game to win, and we won."
Leading 26-0 at halftime, the Sea Eagles put paid to any thoughts of a Gold Coast comeback when Harper trapped an Ash Taylor grubber kick, picked up the ball and raced into the clear before passing to Saab for his second try in the 44th minute.
Garrick completed the rout when he scored his second in the 65th minute off a cut-out pass from five-eighth Kieran Foran.