THE last time these two teams met, Manly denied the Broncos a grand final berth and a fairytale finish for club legend Darren Lockyer. Last night, they broke the hearts of Brisbane yet again.
After a runaway Steve Matai got the Sea Eagles into match-winning territory, David Williams scored in the final minute of play to deny the Broncos what would have been a gutsy victory.
The loss was compounded by the fact Brisbane actually scored five tries to four, but Corey Parker missed four of his conversions. They didn't get the result, but the Broncos did take a giant step towards September, showing premiership credentials aplenty in one of the best games of the season.
Geoff Toovey's men called on all of their big-game experience to pip Brisbane at the death, but the win could come at a price for the Sea Eagles. They lost Anthony Watmough in the last five minutes after he copped a contentious hit to the back from Alex Glenn, further adding to Ricky Stuart's Origin woes.
Matt Gillett stormed into Maroons reckoning with a brace of tries, but the best player on the field – in a losing side – was Corey Norman, a 21-year-old who came into the season with the weight of Queensland on his shoulders.
He has made the transformation to the post-Lockyer era appear near seamless. It is a cliche commonly used in rugby league, but the Brisbane No.6 is the poster boy for players who consistently improve from week to week. He had been impressive in the opening nine rounds, but last night was his biggest test, forced to steer the Broncos around the paddock in the absence of injured halfback Peter Wallace.
"I think I took a bit of control there, so I was pretty happy with that, but it would've been better with the win," Norman said.
Manly were guilty of overplaying their hand against the Raiders last week, coughing up possession and giving away several golden attacking opportunities. But last night they rolled up their sleeves and paid Brisbane the respect they deserved.
The Sea Eagles looked like they came to play, but Brisbane appeared to be suffering from a New Zealand hangover and were slow out of the blocks as they allowed a rampant Manly to dictate terms early on.
The Broncos lost Justin Hodges before kick-off with a foot injury, but Manly didn't change their game plan, peppering Brisbane's left edge of Norman, Jack Reed and Dale Copley with plenty of success in the early stages, breaking through to post first points in the third minute.
With Daly Cherry-Evans, Glenn Stewart and Jamie Lyon playing alongside each other on the right side, it was no real surprise Toovey sent plenty of traffic down the Broncos' left edge. But they retaliated in style midway through the first half, finding a way through Manly's defence courtesy of a Parker offload that paved the way for Reed to run in untouched.
Wallace's halfback replacement, Ben Hunt, failed to build the type of pressure Wallace usually does with his short kicking game. But in a sign of how quickly Norman has matured in the opening 10 rounds, he took it upon himself to take over the last-tackle options after a couple of shockers from Hunt, executing a well-weighted crossfield kick to send Gerard Beale over for Brisbane's second.
They made it three tries in 10 minutes shortly after, making the most of a 94 per cent completion rate in the first half.
Parker kept Manly in the game, missing all four of his kicks at goal, including three before half-time, allowing the Sea Eagles to head into half time 14-12 in front – despite scoring one less try.
In the end, it cost Brisbane dearly, with Lyon enjoying a perfect night with the boot to ensure Manly head into the Origin period with back-to-back wins under their belt.
MANLY 24 (D Williams 2 J Lyon S Matai tries J Lyon 4 goals) bt BRISBANE 22 (M Gillett 2 G Beale A Glenn J Reed tries C Norman goal) at Suncorp Stadium. Referee: Tony Archer, Shayne Hayne.