Wayne Bennett believes Manly are playing the type of rugby league that is good enough for them to become the first club to win back-to-back titles in a united competition since Brisbane last managed the feat under him in 1992-93.
Manly dismantled master coach Bennett's Newcastle side 42-20 at Brookvale Oval on Sunday, running in eight tries to four to leave the seven-time premiership-winning mentor in awe of the Sea Eagles' performance.
Asked how highly he rated them, Bennett said: "Being asked that question now, and I was asked that the other day, and watching the videos of Manly, they are as good as anyone with their potential right now, I think,'' said Bennett, who also won back-to-back titles with Brisbane in the Super League year of 1997 and then '98.
"They may have taken a bit of a hit here today with some injuries, I'm not sure.
"If they lose a lot of players, it will be too hard to get that right before the season is over, so I don't know that situation.
"But certainly their form - and I'm not saying that because of today's results, I'm saying it because of what I have seen over the last couple of weeks - they are playing the type of footy that wins when it matters.''
The loss means Newcastle face a tough battle to make the finals with the Knights sitting 11th on the ladder and two points outside the eight with two games remaining.
If the Knights do miss out, it would mean Bennett won't coach a team in the finals for the first time since 1991.
The Sea Eagles' win moved them to 32 points but left them in fourth spot on points differential behind South Sydney, with two games remaining.
Souths suffered a second consecutive loss when they went down 20-7 to Cronulla at Toyota Stadium on Saturday night.
But the Rabbitohs have a decent run to the finals with games against last-placed Parramatta and Newcastle.
Canterbury, coached by Des Hasler who steered Manly to the 2011 title, skipped four clear of Melbourne in the race for the minor premiership with a controversial 23-22 win over Wests Tigers on Friday night.
Video referee Sean Hampstead is under mounting pressure after he awarded a try to Bulldogs winger Jonathan Wright in the 74th minute despite a shepherd in the lead-up to the four-pointer.
Also on Friday, Melbourne continued their resurgence with a 19-18 win over Brisbane to give the Storm a third straight win which leaves them in second place.
The Broncos are clinging to seventh place on 26 points after four consecutive losses and play Manly at Brookvale next week.
Meanwhile Sydney Roosters veteran Anthony Minichiello faces a nervous wait to see if he is charged by the match review committee after he was sent off against Canberra.
Minichiello, who had never been sent off in his 12 seasons, caught Raiders fullback Josh Dugan high in Saturday's 24-20 loss to Canberra who remain an outside chance to make the finals.
Wests Tigers skipper Robbie Farah will have further scans to his fractured hand on Monday.
Farah suffered the injury making a tackle early in extra-time in Friday night's loss to the Bulldogs.