MANLY’S powder puff pack of recent years has been traded in for the Sea Eagles of steel, and heavyweights Cronulla are the latest to feel the wrath of the premiership dark horse.
Skipper Daly Cherry-Evans added three try-assists to his case for an Origin recall in a 35-18 upset of the Sharks in their own waters.
But for all of Cherry-Evans sleight of hand, his prowess owed plenty to the unlikely destroyers of the best-credentialed forward contingent in the game, and the backbone of the Sea Eagles fourth win on the trot.
After 23 minutes the premiers pack had been reduced to matchsticks by Marty Taupau (109 metres in his first stint), Blues star Jake Trbojoveic and a reborn Curtis Sironen, who had an unlikely double and five tackle busts en route to an early 18-0 lead.
Taupau finished with 200-plus running metres for the third straight game, Trbojevic 137 metres and two offloads, and Manly their eighth win in 10 visits to The Shire.
Just as significantly, renowned metre-eaters Andrew Fifita (75 metres) and Paul Gallen (80) were kept firmly in their box as Manly dominated the ruck Cronulla so often make their own.
Cherry-Evans, who pushed his rep resumé under Kevin Walters’ nose once more in the wake of Johnathan Thurston’s shoulder surgery, knew exactly who to thank for his latest five-star showing.
“I can’t sing their praises enough … every game we’ve won they’ve played well,” Cherry-Evans said of his big men.
“They’ve been a pleasure to play behind and it’s put me in a position to play some good football this year. I really am appreciative of the forward pack this season.”
Cronulla’s Origin-contingent struggled as they fumbled and bumbled their way through the opening exchanges, more often than not forced into error by diminutive Sea Eagles rake Apisai Koroisau, whose heavy defensive shots landed well outside his weight division.
His rib-rattler on Val Holmes was capped with a flourish from Tom Trbojevic; the No. 1’s cut out pass from the next set giving Matthew Wright his first for the day.
With Cherry-Evans twice piloting Sironen through either side, the Sharks were down by three tries and all-but dead in the water after just 20-odd minutes.
Stemming the tide was Luke Lewis with the unlikeliest, most spectacular of plays: a 34-year-old back-rower taking an intercept and running 80 metres to score, watching himself on the big screen the whole way.
A certified senior citizen putting the kids in their place it wasn’t, but Cronulla’s follow-up wasn’t half bad either.
Magic of a different kind from Maloney – a blind side switch and decoy run from a quick tap – saw Akuila Uate drawn from his wing and Sosaia Feki stroll across untouched, before Cherry-Evans stretched the lead once more with a field goal on halftime.
The mistakes and close calls from both sides continued after the break, as did Manly’s unexpected ascendancy in the middle.
When the visitors clicked once more and Cherry-Evans floated Wright in for his second, Cronulla were officially cooked.
Compounding an unhappy day at the office, young hooker Jayden Brailey was taken to hospital with a suspected fractured jaw that threatens to cruel his Dally M Rookie of the Year claims.
Late tries were traded by Blake Green, Dylan Walker and Wade Graham, while the Sea Eagles helped themselves to fourth spot on the ladder at the expense of the Cronulla mob they just crushed.