Manly's 22-point second half performance carried it to a 34-18 win over the Vodafone Warriors in tonight's sixth-round NRL clash against the Vodafone Warriors at Mount Smart Stadium.
Heading into the halftime break the Sea Eagles were six points ahead but, just four minutes into the second spell, they went out to an 18-6 advantage through the first of Steve Matai's two tries and soon stretched it to 20-6 with a Jamie Lyon penalty.
The Vodafone Warriors didn't go away, coming back to 12-20 when Issac Luke drove over from dummy half but Lyon kicked another penalty to make it 22-12 and Matai was then put over for his second to extend to 28-12.
The Vodafone Warriors worked a late strike by Solomone Kata for his seventh try of the season only for the Sea Eagles to round out the night with a Tom Trbojevic try for their 16-point winning margin.
Earlier the home side had been down 0-12 in the shadow of halftime when quick hands down a short right side from Shaun Johnson and Issac Luke sent Ayshford over. A superb Johnson conversion trimmed the margin to 6-12 leaving it all to play for in the second 40 minutes.
The opening to this contest was up another level on the intensity scale.
An energised Manly loaded up from the outset, ganging up with multiple defenders as the Vodafone Warriors tried to get out of their end after receiving the kick-off. They barely made it out of their quarter.
They weren’t missing either raining in several big shots in the opening stanza, including a stunner from Johnson.
The Sea Eagles were enjoying better field position, though, and came up with the first points when Tuimoala Lolohea was undone by a teasing grubber which bounced wickedly. It went loose, Martin Taupau picking up for a gift try which Lyon converted for a 6-0 lead after eight minutes.
Manly was throwing plenty at the Vodafone Warriors’ defence in a contest which had a finals-like intensity about it.
There were moments for the home side on attack when Lolohea, Luke, Ayshford and Solomone Kata threatened but more often the Vodafone Warriors endured a taxing defensive workload.
They scrambled brilliantly and heroically but in the 22nd minute the weight of possession took its toll when Sea Eagles prop Josh Starling was able to breach the line too easily hear the posts. With another Lyon conversion they were out to a 12-0 lead.
On the 30-minute mark Thomas Leuluai made his long-awaited return, playing in the middle of the park.
In the 37th minute, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck won a penalty, tapped and went straight at the line. Stopped just short he played the ball quickly, smart hands to the right giving Ayshford his second try for the club.
The second half produced a series of frustrating calls from the officials, not least when Kata clearly appeared to get a kick back into the field of play but was ruled to have forced the ball on the goal-line. It was from that call that Matai score to put Manly 18-6 ahead, a telling moment in this contest.
Luke's try provided more than hope at 12-20 but refereeing calls were influential on a night when the whistlers dished out a total of 21 penalties. One of them for a high shot presented Lyon with another shot at goal on a night when he would kick seven out of seven for a 22-12 lead
An inside ball opened up a track for Matai to go over for his second to effectively seal the deal despite Kata's try soon after.
The Vodafone Warriors have been left with a 2-4 record after six rounds as they eye their 'away' game against Canterbury-Bankstown in Wellington next Saturday night (7.30pm kick-off).
Match details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 18 (Blake Ayshford, Issac Luke, Solomone Kata tries; Shaun Johnson 3conversions).
Manly Sea Eagles 34 (Steve Matai 2, Martin Taupau, Josh Starling, Tom Trbojevic tries; Jamie Lyon 5 conversions, 2 penalties).
Halftime: 12-6 Sea Eagles.
Referees: Gavin Reynolds and Chris Sutton.
Vodafone Warriors | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck; Tuimoala Lolohea, Blake Ayshford, Solomone Kata, Manu Vatuvei; Jeff Robson, Shaun Johnson; Jacob Lillyman, Issac Luke, Ben Matulino; Simon Mannering, Ryan Hoffman (c); Sam Lisone. Interchange: Charlie Gubb, Sam Lisone, Konrad Hurrell, Thomas Leuluai.