The Manly Sea Eagles have managed to hold on for victory against a resurgent Gold Coast Titans, who will be disappointed that their second-half comeback amount to little more than a 26-18 defeat at Brookvale.
While Manly have stuttered to begin their season, the Titans have perhaps shown some signs of appearing stronger than their pre-season predictions would have estimated.
This Easter Saturday clash was the perfect litmus test for both teams.
A loss for Manly would almost certainly spell trouble, while the Titans would be exceedingly pleased with an early-season victory over one of the alleged competition heavyweights.
Nonetheless, it would be the home-team favourites who got the scoreboard ticking over in the 11th minute, with man-mountain Haumole Olakau’atu continuing his run of good form, pouncing on a deft grubber from captain Daly Cherry-Evans.
The Sea Eagles would ramp up the pressure 10 minutes later when fill-in fullback Reuben Garrick cruised through open space on the Titans’ right edge after a couple of handy long passes from Jake Trbojevic and Kieran Foran.
It did look all too easy for the men from Manly though and the game quickly threatened to start pulling away from the Gold Coast’s grasp.
Manly’s Jason Saab would be denied a try moments later when it was controversially ruled that he had pushed a Titans player in the lead-up. A bustling run from Olakau’atu also ended up with a no-try ruling by the video ref, frustrating Manly.
Despite the setback, the Sea Eagles would go further ahead shortly after, when Cherry-Evans delivered a short ball to Haumole off the restart, who dutifully planted it down for his second.
With five minutes left in the half, the Titans were able to finally build some pressure of their own.
Again, it was superstar David Fifita who managed to produce a moment of brilliance, fending off players and offloading to Jamayne Isaako close to the line.
Isaako rolled over to bring the Titans their first points. Brilliant from the Titans – though you worry where else their points will come from.
The reprieve was squandered, however, with ill discipline allowing Manly to have another shot at the Titans before the break.
Playing with confidence, Kieran Foran took on the line from 20 out and managed to throw off his defenders on his way to a brilliant solo try.
The healthy and rejuvenated Foran, alongside DCE and injured fullback Tom Trbojevic, is a recipe for finals success.
That would be the last time Manly scored a try, however.
Coming back from the break, it appeared the Brookvale squad had taken their foot off the pedal, so to speak.
The Titans refused to go away and their early effort was rewarded when Brian Kelly managed to streak over the line 10 minutes into the half.
Not long after and David Fifita would again prove his undeniable and unique qualities, fending and running and bullying his way to the corner.
A man against boys, Fifita is almost the ultimate physical player.
Even if he goes missing in games, he’s almost always producing the most spectacular moment of the game.
Add in his improved work rate this year and Fifita is proving his worth, despite the naysayers.
Fa’asuamaleaui would bring the game to within a converted try, but no further.
A penalty late in the game from DCE would put it beyond that, snuffing out the last of the Titans’ hope.
If you ask the coaches, Justin Holbrook would say they need to work on their first half. Des Hasler might think Manly’s second half could do with some work.
All told, Holbrook is probably the happier coach at the end of the day.
Manly has the potential to be a real contender this year, but have shown little of that at this early stage.
Manly Sea Eagles 26 (Olakau’atu 2. Garrick, Foran) def Gold Coast Titans 18 (Isaako, Kelly, Fifita, Fa’asuamaleaui)
NRL News Player of the Match
3 Points – Daly Cherry-Evans (MAN)
2 Points – David Fifita (GLD)
1 Point – Haumole Olakau’atu (MAN)