In front of a packed house at Robina tonight the wounded Titans looked set to pull off a major upset – leading by 2 points with under 20 minutes to go. However, the visiting Manly side had other ideas and was simply getting warmed up – Brett Stewart and Matt Orford combining to put on a show and blow the Gold Coast side off the park in the space of 15 minutes.
Manly bringing up their 5th consecutive win and honing their skills with the NRL finals around the corner.
Despite trailing 12-6 at the break, the Titans emerged from half time breathing fire, and squared it up in the 52nd minute when Anthony Laffranchi hit a short ball at speed to cross for his second try of the night.
Mat Rogers slotted the conversion from adjacent to the posts and when a needless penalty for holding down in the ruck gifted Rogers another two-pointer minutes later, the underdogs were in front and a raucous Gold Coast crowd could smell an upset in the air.
But the Eagles are sitting on top of the comp for a reason, and surged back in front in the twinkling of an eye.
A cleverly placed grubber from Matt Orford was re-gathered by Michael Robertson, and he in turn provided Jamie Lyon with an unimpeded run to the line thanks to an unfortunate slip from Brenton Bowen in the Titans defensive line.
Orford was unable to add the extras, leaving the Sea Eagles with a narrow 16-14 lead and the game in the balance with just over a quarter of an hour remaining.
Until a moment of Manly magic broke the game open.
Winger David Williams bumped off some poor attempted tackles and stormed the length of the field to score a magnificent solo try in the 67th minute.
Hooker Nathan Friend was comfortably outpaced by the fleet-footed winger but chased valiantly to force Williams to cross out wide in the hope of minimising the damage.
It turned out to be a forlorn chase, with Orford nailing the conversion from wide out to give the Sea Eagles some breathing space, 22-14 in front with eleven minutes to play.
The Sea Eagles ran away with it in the closing stages, as Brett Stewart toyed with a tired Titans defensive line to bag two tries in the space of five minutes – a fitting finale to his 100th NRL appearance.
The first was a sparkling 90 metre effort initiated by Steven Menzies and finished off by Stewart in the 76th minute, followed by a final minute stunner in which Orford linked with the fleet footed fullback via a magnificent flick-pass to round out the scoring .
The Titans made an impressive start despite being without their on-field general Scott Prince, as Rogers stepped admirably into the Gold Coast’s playmaking breach.
A deft chip kick from Rogers in the seventh minute found a surging Ben Jeffrey, who speared through an opening before linking with Luke O’Dwyer.
O’Dwyer looked certain to put the home side on the board as he charged toward the left-hand corner, but he somehow lost control of the ball to let the Sea Eagles off the hook.
But it wasn’t for long, Josh Perry spilled the ball as the Sea Eagles were working it out from their own end to give the Titans another chance, and this time there would be no inexplicable lost balls.
A short pass from Friend found Laffranchi, and the Origin star powered his way through three would-be tacklers to give the home side the lead after nine minutes.
Rogers added the extras to extend the Titans advantage to six, but the Sea Eagles hit back almost immediately.
France-bound centre Steven Bell forced his way over in the 14th minute following some sustained pressure from the visitors, and Orford added the extras to cancel out the Gold Coast’s early advantage.
A number of dropped balls from the Sea Eagles gave the home side a number of attacking opportunities, but the Titans couldn’t capitalise, and they got burned in the lead up to half time.
Orford shrugged off some weak attempted tackles close to the Titans line before linking with Menzies, who crossed for the easiest of tries to give Manly the lead.
The Manly half again had no problem with the extras to set up a 12-6 lead for the visitors at the break.
Manly coach Des Hasler was in a jovial mood following his side’s return to the top of the ladder.
“We’re moo-ving along,” he joked in reference to reports earlier this week his players had used a substance made partly of calves blood to help them recover from injury.
“We were pretty ugly for at least 60-65 minutes there, but able to rally enough to get home with the points,” he said.
“We just need to be able to pick up our discipline, and pick up those parts of the game where you really just have to stay in the arm wrestle and win the arm wrestles.
“They’re the little parts of the game, the little sequences that are really important.”
Titans coach John Cartwright said his side put themselves in a position to win, but couldn’t get the job done.
“I’m just really disappointed that last 10 minutes, we were still a chance to win that game with 10 minutes to go,” he said.
“We’ve just got no excuse and we’re nowhere near a top side when we concede points like that.
“It’s just a couple of basic errors and just some intensity for the 80 minutes, that’s the difference between the top sides and the rest of us.”
Manly’s Steve Matai will be in doubt for next week after being taken to hospital late in the game with bleeding to the lungs, while Titan Mark Minichiello also left the field late in the match with an ankle injury.
MANLY 34 (B Stewart 2 S Bell J Lyon S Menzies D Williams tries M Orford 5 goals) bt GOLD COAST 14 (A Laffranchi 2 tries M Rogers 3 goals) at Skilled Park. Referee: J Maxwell. Crowd: 21,374.