Manly moved closer to the NRL minor premiership with a 16-4 win over Brisbane at Brookvale Oval on Friday night.
A stubborn Brisbane did their best to stay with an out-of-sorts Sea Eagles for much of the contest before a Brett Stewart try, his 76th in 82 games at the venue, sealed the win for the home side in the 69th minute.
Man of the match, Manly playmaker Kieran Foran, who had lifted himself out of his sick bed to play, had threatened to break the Broncos’ line all night and finally did before handing off inside to the ever-present Stewart.
Justin Hodges left the field with a hamstring injury in the 28th minute and didn’t return in a worrying sign for the remainder of the Broncos’ season.
After the sides went to the break at 4-4, Manly – looking more like Parramatta in a Wolverine/Marvel-inspired concept jersey – threw the ball through countless sets of hands in the 56th minute before captain Jamie Lyon kicked astutely for Peta Hiku to edge the Sea Eagles ahead.
The victory puts Manly two wins clear of second-placed Penrith, who beat Canterbury across town, with five rounds to play and near certain to play at home in the opening week of the finals.
South Sydney can leapfrog Penrith with a win over Newcastle on Sunday but Manly, who have set the premiership pace for much of the season, could wrap up the minor premiership before the final round.
Before 12,873 fans, the Sea Eagles opened the scoring in the 12th minute when Lyon raced over outside poor defence from Dale Copley.
Manly had blown a number of sides away early at Brookvale Oval this year but a gritty Brisbane managed to hold their own in the opening stanza, even if both sides lacked polish in attack.
Jack Reed tied things up when he scored out wide in the 32nd minute after Daniel Vidot dished off a Ben Hunt kick.
But with a gusty wind against them, Manly should have gone into the break ahead after bombing three first-half tries.
In Friday night’s other match, Penrith‘s fortunes swung both ways when they scored a 22-16 win over luckless Canterbury in a physical affair at ANZ Stadium.
The Panthers kept their top-four hopes alive, but were the beneficiaries of the video referee denying two tries to the Bulldogs while their injury crisis deepened even further.
Backrowers Bryce Cartwright and Elijah Taylor both left the field with leg injuries in a victory which lifted the Panthers to second on the ladder and broke a two-game losing streak.
Taylor suffered a likely season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee midway through the first half while Cartwright was helped from the field in the second stanza with what appeared to be an ankle problem.
It compounded the Panthers’ injury woes having already lost playmakers Peter Wallace (knee), Tyrone Peachey (pectoral) and Isaac John (achilles) for the rest of the year.
Hooker James Segeyaro was a standout for the Panthers, scoring twice, making one line break, seven tackle breaks and 37 tackles.
It was the Bulldogs’ third straight loss and brings into question their premiership credentials.