Manly are finally playing the sort of football they had promised to under rookie coach Trent Barrett as they continue to make a late finals charge.
The Sea Eagles secured their fourth successive win at Brookvale Oval on Sunday, a 36-16 defeat of Newcastle and sit just two points outside the top eight with five rounds to go.
In stark contrast are wooden-spoon bound Newcastle, who suffered a club record-equalling 13th successive loss.
Under Nathan Brown, a former teammate and coach of Barrett’s at St George Illawarra, the Knights have managed just one win over 21 rounds, a year after Rick Stone was sacked after recording five wins.
While Brown again spoke post-match about the tough times the Knights will continue to face, Barrett can finally speak with optimism about his Manly side after a year of drama.
“The first 50 minutes today were really good but that last half hour was pretty scrappy and we would have liked to finish the job,” Barrett said after Manly led 36-0 after 50 minutes before easing off in the second half.
“We are still hanging around (the top eight), there is still a long way to go but the last month has been good.
“We always thought our back end (of the season) would be better but we did not count on the run of losses.
“But there was always hope there. We have come out the other end and we have been playing some good footy.”
The off-season signings of Nate Myles, Martin Taupau, and Dylan Walker gave great hope for Manly fans that is only just materialising.
They had suffered seven straight defeats before their current run of wins.
But defeat is all Newcastle fans know at the moment.
“I’m not into second half comebacks, in that first 30 minutes physically we didn’t compete at all,” Brown said.
“I want us to fight a bit harder at the start of each game.”
The Knights had shown some improvement in recent weeks but that went out the window in the first half.
“If we had kept that side on the field, with Mullo (Jared Mullen), Sione (Mata’utia) and Robbie (Rochow) we would have competed better.
“It is just tough at the moment.”
Walker returned from two weeks out with a self-inflicted hand injury for Manly who were missing Jamie Lyon and Nate Myles through injury.
Tom Trbojevic led the way for the home side before 11,222 fans in the first half.
Manly led 26-0 at the break on the top of a dominant forward performance that opened the way for tries to Jorge Taufua, Brayden Wiliame (two), Jamie Buhrer and Josh Starling.
When Walker and Matthew Wright crossed for tries within 10 minutes after the resumption the match was over.
Tries to Peter Mata’utia, David Bhana and Brendan Elliot in the last 20 minutes for the Knights gave some respectability to the score.