A dynamic 10-minute spell before half-time may have been enough for Daly Cherry-Evans to lead Manly to a 32-10 win against Canterbury but a knee injury threatens to derail his Origin ambitions after he limped from the field early in the second half.
Cherry-Evans produced one the most scintillating cameos seen this year against the table-topping Bulldogs, laying on three tries at Brookvale Oval, after hobbling his way through the first half with a left knee injury, despite coming into the game with strapping on his right knee.
He jarred his left knee when he was tackled by Sam Kasiano around his legs as he kicked the ball four minutes after half-time and was assisted from the field. Kasiano was placed on report, but the repercussions could be dire for a Queensland side who had earmarked Cherry-Evans to fill the No 7 jersey vacated by an injured Cooper Cronk.
The knee injury had been expected to rule Cherry-Evans out of the match.
Manly fell behind early after Mitch Brown finished a nice catch-and-pass from centre Tim Lafai to score in the 17th minute. Lafai looked the most damaging for the Bulldogs, as he made the switch to his preferred left centre to fill the void left by Josh Morris's knee injury.
But it was Cherry-Evans who stole the show on a heavy track in front of 9,235 people. Having only run for the first time since Origin on Thursday, he looked out of sorts to begin the game. But when he re-gathered his own grubber kick to send Steve Matai for a try in the 29th minute, he would spark the home side to life, and lay on two more within eight minutes to give Manly an 18-6 half-time lead.
"It's all right it's a bit sore at the moment," Cherry-Evans said after the game.
"It took a bit of a bump. A think a bit of recovery, and a few day it'll come good," he told 2GB.
"It was good to see us execute a game plan. Last week we were off the mark. We knew it was going to be win or loss in the middle of the field, our boys muscled up."
Cherry-Evans, who was one of five Origin players on the field, forced a repeat set before Manly's next try to Jesse Sene-Lefao. His next onslaught was sheer brilliance. Taking the line on for one of the few times in the first half, Cherry-Evans stuck his nose through Bulldogs defence before off-loading to Jamie Lyon who gave a pass to Peta Hiku who was able to race away to score three minutes before the half-time break.
If Cherry-Evans is fit, he will rekindle his battle with Bulldogs halves Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds next Wednesday night. While the Blues' fans may tame some solace in Cherry-Evans' potential unavailability, it was the lacklustre performance of the Bulldogs halves which could cause some NSW fans heartache.
The Bulldogs duo would have been disappointed with their first match since leading NSW to victory, after failing to make any real impact in the game, and were outplayed by their Manly counterparts, with Kieran Foran also threatening at times. Foran stepped up in Cherry-Evans' absence laying on two tries with his boot, both to fullback Brett Stewart.
Canterbury's only second half points came from a Reynolds cross-field kick for Chase Stanley to score.
Blues back-rower Anthony Watmough looked untroubled as he played about 65 minutes after rupturing his bicep in Origin.
NSW wing hopeful Jorge Taufua was placed on report for a high shot after he slid into a tackle on Bulldogs fullback Sam Perrett. Perrett and Chase Stanley limped from the field with an ankle injury while Lyon didn't complete the game with a knee complaint late in the game.
The loss was Des Hasler's first from three matches at Brookvale Oval since leaving Manly at the end of 2011.
Manly Sea Eagles 32 (B Stewart 2 P Hiku S Matai J Sene-Lefao tries J Lyon 6 goals) Canterbury Bulldogs 10 (M Brown C Stanley tries T Hodkinson goal) at Brookvale Oval. Referee: Gerard Sutton, Gavin Morris. Crowd: 9,235
- Sydney Morning Herald
What sport should Israel Folau play?Related story: (See story)