Jake Trbojevic was again full of praise for his brother.
“It’s pretty special,” he said. “He does some special things. That try in the second half was outstanding.”
As for Manly’s meteoric rise up the ladder after losing their opening four matches, Jake said: “We started really poorly and were down on confidence. But everyone started playing good footy, Tommy coming back [from injury] was nice and it was no coincidence [we started winning], but there has been a lot of belief.
“Had you told me after four rounds we’d finish in the top four, I would have laughed at you. We’re really happy and proud.”
While Melbourne deserve to be favourites, and Penrith are in the box seat to go one better than last year, Tom Trbojevic and Manly loom as the September X factor.
Trbojevic set up his brother Jake for a try two minutes before half-time, then scored one himself as the Sea Eagles suddenly jumped out to an 18-6 lead at the break.
Trbojevic finished the night with three tries – it took his tally to 25 for the year in just 15 games – 21 runs for nearly 250m, two try assists and 14 tackle busts.
The Cowboys were not the first team Trbojevic has almost single-handedly terrorised this year, and they probably won’t be the last.
North Queenland coach Todd Payten labelled the final 10 minutes “totally unacceptable” and “I thought we gave up the last few minutes when things went the other way”.
The best thing for the northern beaches club was there was plenty of support acts.
Reuben Garrick passed Hazem El Masri’s long-standing regular-season points record of 288 points before half-time, then smashed through the 300-point barrier late in the game. His try off a Daly Cherry-Evans kick was as good as they come.
His effort to chase hard after a Jake Granville kick, then power his way down field and pass to Cherry-Evans, who put Trbojevic over was sensational.
Cherry-Evans was his usual reliable self, as was his halves partner Foran.
Jason Saab could barely catch his breath when he sprinted 80m to deny Murray Taulagi a try – he also covered a lot of ground in the first half to get to Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow but could not stop him – while Haumole Olakau’atu showed tremendous athleticism to set up Jake for his second try.
“When we needed to find a gear we did, we walk away with the two points, fourth spot and no injuries,” Manly coach Des Hasler said.
“It will be a real challenge [next week]. They’re minor premiers, a quality side – a great side – and they have plenty of experience.”
One concern was the Queensland Country Bank Stadium playing surface, which almost chopped up as badly as Brookvale Oval, and will be expected to host an NRL finals double-header next Saturday.