Superstar Benji Marshall engineered a stunning Wests Tigers comeback as they downed Manly 14-12 in a bruising Friday night NRL clash at Bluetongue Stadium.
In a classic game of two halves, the Tigers showed they were ready to mix it with the big boys in coming back from 12-0 down to dominate the second half with three unanswered tries.
Marshall created two of them, the second a stunning 50m effort for Chris Lawrence that included a brilliant no-look pass.
As well as Lawrence, Robert Lui and Blake Ayshford scored tries for the Tigers with Marshall booting one from three in front of a sell-out 20,059 in Gosford.
For the Sea Eagles, Brett Stewart and Matt Ballin scored tries with Jamie Lyon kicking two from two.
The pre-match hype over a simmering feud between the clubs threatened to explode in a third minute dust-up but the match soon settled into the kind of bruise-fest the finals are certain to bring.
The physical Manly machine had looked to be cruising at 12-0 at the break before Marshall sparked a three-try Tigers onslaught in the space of seven minutes.
Lui grabbed a clever Marshall ball in the 56th minute and touched down and the Tigers almost had another three minutes later when Lawrence was ruled not to have grounded the ball by video referee Sean Hampstead.
They only had to wait another two minutes, though, for Ayshford to latch onto a pass from Robbie Farah that Manly players complained was forward.
A shocking conversion miss from Marshall close to the posts left the Sea Eagles in front 12-10.
But the superstar five-eighth made amends with some trademark magic in the 63rd minute, making the bust and delivering the no-look pass for Lawrence to complete a 50m effort and make it 14-12 in favour of the Tigers.
Earlier, Stewart had scored in the 13th minute when he sped onto a superb offload from impressive halfback Daly Cherry-Evans, Lyon’s conversion making it 6-0.
Ballin dummied and scooted over from dummy half in the 33rd minute, catching Tigers prop Aaron Woods out at marker as he appealed to the referee for a penalty.
Manly missed an opportunity to join Melbourne at the top of the NRL ladder on 34 points, while the Tigers notched three straight wins for the first time in 2011 to cling to their place in the top eight.
Perhaps proving he has eyes in the back of his head, Marshall denied his pass to Lawrence was a no-looker.
“I looked. Of course I looked. I thought I looked,” he said.
“It was a big win for us, we’ve been lacking a bit of confidence lately, in the last couple of weeks we’ve been really trying to find that.
“Tonight was a real test for us and, 12-0 down at halftime, for the boys to come out second half and put on that performance, it’s a big step for us.
“But we didn’t win the grand final.”
Manly coach Des Hasler was unimpressed by the pass that led to Ayshford’s try.
“I think all 20,000 people saw it, I don’t think the officials did,” he said.
“It was two feet forward, one step back.”
With a pre-season charity cricket match at the centre of the supposed feud between the old fibros and silvertails, Tigers coach Tim Sheens couldn’t resist throwing out another challenge.
“We’ll get them at cricket next year too, just quietly,” he said.