Tom Trbojevic had everyone searching for superlatives once again as he scored his third hat-trick for the season to propel Manly closer to the top four with a 40-22 win over Cronulla at Suncorp Stadium.
Apart from his tries, Trbojevic tormented the Sharks with three line breaks, another four line break assists, three try assists, five off-loads, 14 tackle-busts, all on top of running for 217 metres. Little wonder coach Des Hasler gave him an early shower.
It gave Manly their 12th win of the season and took them to 26 points, right on the hammer of the Eels and Roosters in fourth and fifth spot on 28.
"The top four is something we’d like to aspire to," coach Des Hasler said post-match. "We’ve just got to keep turning up and keep winning."
Man of the moment Trbojevic puts his free-flowing points exhibitions down to the changes in the NRL this season.
Match: Sharks v Sea Eagles
Round 20 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
"The game obviously got a bit faster with all the new rules and it just really seems to suit my game," Trbojevic told Fox Sports after full-time.
Hasler wanted to acknowledge his forwards more than give 'Turbo' any more raps. But he did say he was "constantly" looking at the workload of his Origin fullback so he could help preserve that fountain of talent.
"Short turnaround there… he’s OK," Hasler said, referring to Manly’s next assignment against competition leaders Melbourne in five days time on Saturday.
"They’re really good at strangling sides and forcing sides into errors," he said. "Melbourne will be a really good gauge for us as they’re a really good footy side."
Cronulla cling to the top eight in eighth spot, but are now one of five teams stuck on 18 competition points all trying to jag a finals spot.
Turbo Tom is nearly untouchable at the moment
Three tries in six minutes in the first half appeared to lay the foundations for Manly. But the Sharks fought back with two of their own to make it a six-point ball game at half-time (16-10).
But that man that haunts defences and hunts down gaps at every opportunity – Trbojevic – did the damage early in the second half with his 11-minute try-scoring spree.
After two try-saving tackles early by Cronulla – Braydon Trindall on Reuben Garrick and Will Kennedy on Jason Saab – it was going to take something spectacular from the Sea Eagles to grab points.
And that came in the 13th minute when Saab contorted himself to get a bouncing ball grounded just inside the sideline chalk. Three minutes later and Saab’s second was far easier as the Sharks ran out of numbers on their left edge defence.
Then it became a problem as a third Manly try – this time to Morgan Harper – came down that same edge. With the game a quarter old, it was 16-0.
Cronulla put a stake in the ground with Kennedy’s quick turn of speed, and then Trindall collecting a ricocheting ball to get the Sharks back in the game.
Kennedy gets on the outside of Parker
In the second half the Trbojevic triple, all near the uprights, meant it was 18 unanswered points. Garrick’s 15th try for the year stretched that to 24.
A rush of blood to Toby Rudolph’s head in an altercation with Garrick after a flop tackle, put him in the sin-bin and the Sharks were down to 12 men.
But against those odds, Kennedy stopped the rot by scoring Cronulla’s third try and Trindall their fourth. Then the game evened up at 12-men apiece when Taniela Paseka tripped Sharks debutant Luke Metcalf and was sent to the bin.
The Sea Eagles can now head into the Storm with their confidence high and believing they can take down any opponnent with their champion No.1 in such devastating form.