Manly fullback Brett Stewart overcame a horror first half to lead the Sea Eagles to a 24-16 victory against the Roosters in what might have just been a dress rehearsal for what's in store come October.
Sea Eagles take honours in grand final rematch
Manly moved clear at the top of the NRL ladder with a 24-16 win over Sydney Roosters at Brookvale Oval on Friday night.
It was the grand final rematch, but Friday night's gruelling showdown between the Sea Eagles and the Roosters may have also provided a taste of what's to come later in the year.
In front of a capacity crowd of 17,155 at Brookvale Oval, it was Stewart who did the damage in the second half after a disappointing start to the night, scoring a try and setting up the match-winner to maintain his side's position at the top of the ladder.
Roosters five-eighth James Maloney missed a golden opportunity to equalise with 10 minutes remaining, failing to convert a Mitchell Pearce try that was a rather simple attempt by his high standards when the score was 18-16.
The Roosters, who succumbed to their second defeat at the hands of the Sea Eagles this season, were left to rue Maloney's blunder, with Peta Hiku scoring in the final minutes of play to put the result beyond doubt.
The Roosters won all four battles against the Sea Eagles last year, including the 26-18 triumph in the premiership decider last October.
But in their meeting in round four, albeit minus Sonny Bill Williams, the Sea Eagles managed to buck the trend in a hard-fought 8-0 win at Allianz Stadium.
The Sea Eagles, who hadn't lost at home at Brookvale Oval since their golden point heartache against the Melbourne Storm in round one, managed to keep their impressive record intact even without Glenn Stewart and Anthony Watmough.
The Roosters came into the round with the best attacking record in the competition, but three tries weren't enough to get the job done against a resilient Manly outfit.
After six penalties in the first 12 minutes of play, it was the Sea Eagles who capitalised on a mountain of possession to post the first points of the match through Hiku.
It was a similar sweeping backline play down the left side of the field that saw Manly cross for their second try courtesy of Jorge Taufua, who gave his side a 10-0 lead after 18 minutes.
After Daniel Tupou was denied a try by the video referee, it didn't take long for the Roosters to redeem themselves when a Sonny Bill Williams short ball put Shaun Kenny-Dowall in from close range.
With his second touch of the night after six week layoff through injury, Boyd Cordner latched on to a short ball from Pearce to split through the defensive line and give the Roosters a 12-10 lead heading into the break.
James Hasson's night ended prematurely from the ensuing set after getting his head caught in the wrong position, stumbling back to his feet and up the tunnel for a concussion test.
A 40-20 from Daly Cherry-Evans gave Manly a chance to score just before half time, but a penalty against the Roosters saw Sea Eagles skipper Jamie Lyon take the two points on offer to square the ledger.
Stewart hadn't enjoyed a happy first half but a beautifully constructed set play with Matt Ballin and Kieran Foran gave the Manly fullback something to smile about when he put his side in front by a converted try.
Just when it looked like Manly were beginning to take control of the contest, Frank-Paul Nu'uasala stepped his way through the Manly defence to put Pearce over the line.
However a missed goal from 15 metres inside of the touch line from James Maloney left the Roosters trailing by two points with 10 minutes remaining.
Hiku's second try of the night on the stroke of full time ended any hopes of a Roosters comeback.