Addin Fonua-Blake has made his mark on the field for Manly, powering the Sea Eagles back into the NRL top eight with a 24-12 win over North Queensland.
On return from a two-game ban for his high-profile and offensive spray at referee Grant Atkins, Fonua-Blake topped 200 metres on Friday evening in Townsville.
Martin Taupau was also dominant for Manly up front, proving again why they should be in the conversation for the best front-row pairing in the competition.
The Cowboys showed plenty of heart under new coach Josh Hannay, but could not do enough to secure their fourth win of the season.
Barred from playing in Queensland a week ago due to their vaccination policy, Fonua-Blake only met the state government’s requirements this week.
He finished the game with four tackle busts, with 93 of his metres coming post-contact and all but six of the Sea Eagles’ points coming while he was on the field.
Coach Des Hasler insisted though that Fonua-Blake had not arrived with a point to prove.
“He just comes and competes week in, week out,” Hasler said.
“He was good in his first hit back. He brings a lot of momentum and confidence to this team.”
Cade Cust was also superb for Manly at five-eighth.
He put the Sea Eagles on the front foot early with a forced dropout, before Daly Cherry-Evans backed it up with another and put Curtis Sironen over from the ensuing set.
And after the teams traded tries to make it 12-6 at halftime, the five-eighth pulled off the two decisive plays of the second half.
His first came in the 59th minute when he broke downfield and put Cherry-Evans over, despite a desperate effort from winger Kyle Feldt to hold him up between the posts.
Cust sealed the match eight minutes later when he dummied through the line from 10 metres out to cross.
Manly are due to get Dylan Walker back next week, but Cust has shown if Walker proves to be more than one week off, he is more than up to the challenge.
The win did come at a cost for Manly, though, with Joel Thompson leaving the field early with an ankle injury.
The Cowboys were gutsy just days after coach Paul Green left the club, with Jason Taumalolo his typical powerful self in the middle.
On one occasion, Mitchell Dunn did incredibly well to hold up a hard-running Jack Gosiewski close to the line as Manly threatened to make it 18-0.
It paid dividends when Feldt reduced the margin to six, leaping high over Jorge Taufua to take a Jake Clifford cross-field kick and score shortly before the break.
Coen Hess bombed a try with 14 minutes to go which would have made it 18-12, before Francis Molo claimed one late.
“I can live with the errors,” Hannay said.
“We’ve had periods and moments this year where what’s let us down has been a soft underbelly and an attitude problem.
“I was really encouraged I didn’t see that out there tonight.”