Manly turned on the after burners before and after the half time break to smash open the flood gates and get themselves an easy 38-6 win over the hot and cold Dragons.
The Sea Eagles were clinging tenaciously to an 8-6 advantage after a fiercely contested opening half hour, before a piece of Matt Orford magic sparked the beginning of the end for St George Illawarra in season 2008.
A sweeping blind-side play resulted in Orford delivering a one-arm offload in traffic to put Michael Robertson over in the corner, and the newly-crowned Dally M Player of the Year then put the icing on the cake, adding the extras from the touchline to make it 14-6.
A penalty for a ruck infringement capped a woeful first half for Dragons pivot Ben Rogers, and provided Manly with the field position to strike again in the shadows of half time.
And strike they did.
A miracle ball out the back from Brett Stewart found Anthony Watmough, who powered his way over to set up a commanding 20-6 lead, and the damage was to prove terminal for the Red-V’s season.
Departing Dragons coach Nathan Brown may well have signed his own death warrant in the selection room this week, with his decision to play enigmatic former Rabbitoh Ben Rogers in favour of regular pivot Jamie Soward proving a fatal blunder.
Whatever the complete opposite of a coaching masterstroke is, this was it.
Rogers gifted Manly veteran Steve Menzies the game’s first try when a sloppy first-tackle kick off a scrum that was charged down by the ever-present Menzies, who toed ahead before re-gathering to touch down in the 12th minute.
It was just one in a litany of errors for the Knights-bound pivot, with kicks out on the full and a number of poor attacking options, not to mention the time he was more intent on shaping up to Anthony Watmough while Orford was orchestrating a Robertson’s momentum-swinging four-pointer.
The Sea Eagles picked up where they left off after the break, and Stewart continued his phenomenal run of tries at Brookvale Oval, plucking an Orford bomb virtually out of Josh Morris’ hands to cross for Manly’s fifth try in the 58th minute.
It was Stewart’s 48th try in 52 outings at Brookvale, with Orford’s conversion giving the Sea Eagles a 26-6 advantage.
The NSW Origin custodian increased that record to 49 from 52 when he won the race to a Heath L’estrange grubber in the 63rd minute, and the Sea Eagles showed no sign of letting up, with David Williams crossing in the corner unopposed just four minutes later.
The Manly try-fest was capped by the most unlikely of scorers, when prop Josh Perry pounced on a Watmough grubber in the 77th minute, with the ball then handed to Menzies to add the extras.
He hooked the kick terribly and it was waved away – but none of the packed house seemed to care.
Things couldn’t have started any worse for Manly, they gifted the Dragons a sustained look at their line through an early penalty, and then lost Steven Bell to a calf injury all inside the opening sixty seconds.
But the Sea Eagles showed their depth, player-wise and character-wise, hardly missing a beat as the ultimate team man in Menzies came on to fill the breach.
The much-vaunted Manly defence then hoisted the iron curtain for three successive sets, before the pressure valve was released courtesy of a Rogers bomb sailing out on the full.
Jason Ryles gifted Manly another two points in the 20th minute when he was penalised for obstructing Sea Eagles defenders while Mark Gasnier was trying to steal cheap yards out of dummy half.
The Dragons struck back in the 28th minute when Ben Hornby found open spaces down the Sea Eagles left edge.
Linking up with Setu and Morris, Gasnier tore down the touchline to post the Dragons opening try – doing his best, ultimately in vain – to prevent the game being his last on Australian soil.
The France-bound centre then converted from the touchline to cut the deficit to two points on the half hour mark, but it was to prove the last time the Dragons would trouble the scoreboard attendant.
MANLY 38 (H L’Estrange S Menzies J Perry M Robertson B Stewart A Watmough D Williams tries M Orford 5 goals)
bt ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 6 (M Gasnier try M Gasnier goal)