Manly’s finals hopes are in danger after the Warriors put paid to a Lottoland comeback in Des Hasler’s milestone match as coach with a 26-22 win.
In a brutal 400th game as an NRL coach, Hasler lost Addin Fonua-Blake to a potential PCL injury in an 18-minute opening that saw Manly concede three tries and turn the ball over in the first tackle.
Fellow prop Martin Taupau was also left concussed and unable to return after being hit high by Jack Hetherington, who was sin-binned but lucky not to be sent.
Hasler though is refusing to blame injuries after also losing both their second-rowers on match eve, but the injuries are clearly beginning to take its toll at Brookvale.
At full strength Manly look among the competition’s best, having beaten the Sydney Roosters and Canberra.
But without Tom Trbojevic and Dylan Walker, they now have lost five of their past seven and could finish the round as low as 10th.
“We’ve got to stop using the injury excuse,” Hasler said.
“We had our chances tonight to win this game but we didn’t.
“We can always make that (efficiency) up, or talk about combinations, but at the end of the day you’re a professional footballer – hang onto the ball.”
Trbojevic is due back in a fortnight and Manly’s run home is the best of any team jostling for spots at the bottom of the eight.
But they can ill afford to drop more matches like Friday’s match, where they fought back to 16-10 before conceding crucial tries either side of the break.
The Warriors’ win meanwhile marked the first time they have won back-to-back matches since last May and they sit just two wins out of the eight.
Further clarity is expected at the club in the coming days, with Nathan Brown and Phil Gould expected to be announced as next year’s coach and supremo.
Kodi Nikorima and Chanel Harris-Tavita both kicked superbly close to the line just days after Blake Green’s departure, with four of their five tries coming off the pair’s boots.
Patrick Herbert bagged a double, with his first a diving effort to latch onto a Nikorima cross-field kick and score in the same motion the try of the night.
But when Hetherington was sin-binned for his shot on Taupau, it threatened to turn the match wide open with Daly Cherry-Evans and Moses Suli Manly’s best.
After already scoring two tries when the Warriors were at 12 men in the first half, Cade Cust put a charging Haumole Olakau’atu over from close distance with 22 minutes to play.
The margin was then down to four with 12 minutes to play when Tevita Funa put Jorge Taufua over, after Cherry-Evans opted to run it on the last.
But that was as close as they got as the Warriors spoilt Hasler’s party.
“For a long time we have been talking and talking. I think we finally walked it,” Warriors coach Todd Payten said.