Tom Trbojevic partly blamed himself as Manly went winless for the opening month of the season while he watched from afar with a hamstring injury.
There’s little doubt that Trbojevic is the NRL’s most influential player after the superstar fullback delivered his second masterclass in as many weeks to spearhead a 40-6 win over the Tigers on Anzac Day.
He earned a 16-minute early mark after recording a try, two assists, two line breaks and 220 metres at Bankwest Stadium, even prompting Fox Sports commentator Michael Ennis to suggest he could dethrone James Tedesco as the NSW fullback come State of Origin time.
The Sea Eagles have won 16 of their past 21 games with Trbojevic in their line-up and now seem a genuine finals hope with three consecutive wins banked after taking four matches to get off the mark.
“It was very hard [being out injured],” said the 24-year-old, who returned in round six to spark a 36-0 victory over the Titans.
“It’s been the story the last couple of years for me. When [the team is] not going well, you put it a bit on yourself because you can’t be out there helping, you’re sitting on the sideline watching.
“It was tough [for the first month] but we’re lucky enough that we’ve shown our resolve to fight out of that. We’re still not sitting on the table where we want to, we’ve got a long way to go.
“We’ve really improved as a side and I think it’s probably surprised a few people, but we knew we were a good footy team and we just needed to turn it around.
“You take any fullback out of any side, they’re not going to be as good as they were before. I knew that I could help out the team.”
But he doesn’t expect to become the Blues custodian having previously shown his class in the centres and on the wing.
“I think Teddy’s well and truly got that spot locked up. He’s been the best number one for how many years?” Trbojevic said.
“I’m obviously flattered to hear that from a player of the calibre of Michael Ennis, but I’m not really focused on that at the moment.”
Despite their dominance, the Sea Eagles trailed 6-0 after 29 minutes before shocking the 14,095-strong crowd by piling on three tries within five minutes leading into half-time to seize control.
It was only in February that Michael Maguire’s side handed Manly a 52-18 loss in a trial match at Leichhardt Oval, but the likes of Tom and Jake Trbojevic and Daly Cherry-Evans didn’t play that day.
The turning point on Sunday came when Tigers winger David Nofoaluma had a try disallowed for obstruction after ducking behind Luciano Leilua.
In the next set, teenage second-rower Josh Schuster brilliantly laid on a four-pointer for Cherry-Evans to kick the visitors into gear before Tom Trbojevic broke clear and gave the captain his double.
Trbojevic then repeated the dose to put Cherry-Evans on course for a hat-trick, but the playmaker instead passed to prop Martin Taupau as the cover defence swarmed.
And with that incredible blitz, the Sea Eagles had the game in their keeping.
Trbojevic bagged his second try in as many weeks by backing up Haumole Olakau’atu in the 52nd minute before beautifully tapping the ball onto Reuben Garrick to help the winger cross the stripe.
“I think Tom’s got more to come yet personally. He’s only been back two games, but it’s a good start,” Manly coach Des Hasler said.
“I think he’ll be filthy on a couple of errors that he made. With the way that the game turns, there will be areas that he’ll capitalise on further.
“[The halves] create the opportunity or create the space and someone like a Tom Trbojevic can finish off the play.”
Cherry-Evans, who registered three try assists, placed a pinpoint cross-field kick that was caught by the towering Jason Saab to blow out the margin.
Five-eighth Kieran Foran claimed his first try in a Sea Eagles jersey since 2015 with seven minutes to cap off the result.
It would’ve been a sweet result for prop Josh Aloiai, who was promoted to start against the team he departed in acrimonious circumstances over the summer.
The sides last met on Anzac Day in 2004, with the Tigers winning 30-22 on that occasion.
Source: NRL News