I actually relish a small part of the preseason, because anything is possible. At this point we all still think that our team can win the premiership.
Manly’s top-four hopes are well and truly alive after they put another dent in the Wests Tigers’ NRL finals bid with a 32-12 win at Lottoland.
With three rounds to play after this weekend, Daly Cherry-Evans controlled the game perfectly for the Sea Eagles as they provisionally moved into the top four ahead of South Sydney.
It was a horror Thursday night for the Tigers, who could finish the round as low as 12th after two-straight losses.
With Robbie Farah already in doubt for the rest of the season, hooker Jacob Liddle suffered a serious knee injury in the sixth minute and didn’t return.
There were significant fears for his anterior cruciate ligament that could rule him out of the start of next year, after he’s previously suffered a run of shoulder, sternum, rib and knee issues.
“It’s not looking great unfortunately. I feel for him,” coach Michael Maguire said.
“He’s been working really hard in the pre-season to get everything right. He’s obviously faced a bit of adversity prior to me being here.
“From what the doctors seem to think, it could be an ACL.”
Halfback Luke Brooks was also placed on report for dropping his knees on Manly forward Jack Gosiewski, sparking an early-match melee.
Second-rower Chris McQueen also failed a concussion check and missed fulltime following a head clash with teammate Alex Twal.
Benji Marshall offered the only real bright spark, putting on a perfect ball out the back for David Nofoaluma to score the Tigers’ sole first-half try.
The result means the joint venture will likely need to win their last three games to maintain any hope of breaking an eight-year finals drought.
In the most important game of the Tigers’ season, they were barely given a sniff by a Sea Eagles side who had dropped just two games this year at Brookvale.
Manly controlled 63 per cent of possession and forced five line dropouts, including two that came after defenders pushed the Tigers back into their own in-goal.
Cherry-Evans was key to that and he combined with Gosiewski for Manly’s opening two tries, the first with a grubber and the second a perfectly timed short ball.
Tom Trbojevic was back to his electric best with 251 metres, while Dylan Walker also played one of his best games in the No.6 jersey.
The pair combined for the game’s most-important try just before halftime from their own end, after Walker found Trbojevic back on his inside before the fullback sent the trailing five-eighth over.
It was Manly’s second four-pointer in the three minutes before the break, giving them an 18-6 lead and all but ending the Tigers’ hopes.
Jorge Taufua, Moses Suli and Addin Fonua-Blake all crossed in the final 20 minutes, as the game blew out with Brooks also getting one for the Tigers.
Battling to fight off the spoon at this point last year, Manly now face Canberra, Melbourne and Parramatta in a run home that will decide their top-four fate.
“It ticks another box,” coach Des Hasler said.
“We had to do what we did tonight, and it doesn’t hurt our for-and-against.
“It’s a big one against Canberra next week … It’s another test of your credibility.”