Two things became abundantly clear as injury-hit ladder leaders Manly gutsed out a 28-10 NRL win over Parramatta at Brookvale Oval tonight.
One is that the Eels are so far out of finals contention they may as well talk to their travel agents tomorrow about an end of season trip for September.
The second is that while Manly are the form side of the competition, they will need Matt Orford back on deck to go all the way.
While the 18-point win looked comfortable on the scoreboard, it was more a case of guts and grit overcoming an opponent devoid of confidence with Manly running away with it after the break to record a six tries to two win.
The Sea Eagles were always going to struggle when Orford failed a pre-game fitness test on his thigh, while the 18th minute loss of their only other recognised playmaker in Jamie Lyon with a knee injury made it near on mission impossible.
It fell to 25-year-old lower grade halfback Jeff Robson to get them home, Robson playing just his fifth game in the top grade and first since 2004.
His four previous games had all ended in defeat and it was easy to see why over the opening half hour.
Robson and hence the Sea Eagles, looked lost, and it was only a Refs Calls decision against Chad Robinson that denied the Eels a 12-0 lead after Mark Riddell’s opening four-pointer.
The Sea Eagles shuffled things around with Brett Stewart and veteran backrower Steve Menzies taking a bigger slice of the playmaking duties.
It wasn’t fluid, but the Sea Eagles found their way, Matt Ballin diving over from dummy half before David Williams took advantage of a poor Joel Reddy pass to score just seconds before halftime.
Parramatta’s reply was instant after the break with future Sea Eagle Tony Williams making it 10-all before a crucial penalty against Reddy as he tussled for the ball with Stewart turned the match.
Not only did it put a stop to a dangerous Parramatta attacking raid, it put the Sea Eagles in the Eels danger zone, Anthony Watmough crashing through some feeble defence a few plays later to give the home side a lead they would never relinquish.
From there it was as if Manly forgot Orford and Lyon weren’t out there as David Williams crossed for his second before Steve Matai matched him with a double of his own as the Sea Eagles toyed with Parramatta.
The win was tempered by Lyon’s medial ligament strain which threatens to sideline the former international for a few weeks while prop Jason King could be out for longer after injuring his left ankle.
MANLY 28 (S Matai 2 D Williams 2 M BallinAWatmough tries D Williams 2 goals) bt PARRAMATTA 10 (M Riddell T Williams tries K Inu goal) at Brookvale Oval. Referee: S Hayne. Crowd: 18,970.