An under-strength Warriors side were handed their first home defeat at Mt Smart Stadium for the season in front of 19,199 fans today.
First half tries to Cheyse Blair and former Junior Warriors star Peta Hiku saw Manly take a 10-6 halftime lead, after Konrad Hurrell had got the home side off to a strong start with a try in the second minute.
Tremendous second-half defence, together with a second four-pointer to Hiku, and a late try to halfback Daly Cherry-Evans sealed the victory, despite Warriors captain Simon Mannering scoring late to bring his side within 10.
The table topping Sea Eagles have now won three in a row and now sit four points clear of the second-placed Panthers, to remain on track to secure their first minor premiership in 17 years. In the past six games their near impenetrable defence has held teams to 16 points or less on all but one occasion [23 against the Bulldogs in Round 17] and today's effort helped them to their ninth victory in 12 matches in Auckland.
"We were coming close and they're a good side and they came up with some big plays defensively and we just couldn't quite get there," Mannering said afterwards. We got fairly close a couple of times in that second-half but we probably shot ourselves in the foot too many times coming out of trouble."
The Warriors have now lost two games in a row to drop down the ladder into ninth position, amongst a logjam of six sides all locked on 22 point, behind the Cowboys and Broncos and In front of the Dragons, Tigers and Eels.
They started the match in scintillating form with their forwards getting over the advantage line and their backline operating sharply, despite the loss of halfback Shaun Johnson who withdrew before the match with a groin injury and back-rower Feleti Mateo who was ruled out with a calf strain. They missed the organisational presence of Johnson, with five-eighth Chad Townsend's kicking game letting them down on several occasions.
Nineteen-year old Tuimoala Lolohea made his first grade debut off the bench late in the second-half, and despite showing plenty of attacking spark, was unable to conjure any winning plays.
"Our last plays probably weren't as good as they've been, most definitely, but we can fix that. I'm still really happy with the player's efforts and considering the circumstances, we lost Shaun overnight, and I thought the guys that stepped in did a great job," was coach Andrew McFadden's appraisal.
The Warriors struck early, with quick hands from Sam Tomkins allowing Hurrell room to barge over in just the third minute, before Townsend converted from wide out for a 6-0 lead.
Enterprising play and the flow of the referees whistle allowed the Warriors to dominate but the visitors managed to put their slow start behind them when five-eighth Kieran Foran and Steve Matai attacked on the left to see Blair score in the corner.
Errors and a balancing run of penalties helped the visitors profit when Hiku dived in to score with a one-handed put-down, before captain Jamie Lyon converted from near touch to give his side a four point advantage at the break.
The Warriors attacked with gusto early in the second term, but determined defence and poor finishing saw three scoring chances go begging.
As the clock wound down, the pressure grew, and it was the premiership favourites who handled the occasion best, with Hiku scoring his second, before Cherry Evans put the result beyond doubt in the 71st minute.
Warriors 12 (Konrad Hurrell, Simon Mannering tries; Chad Townsend 2 goals)
Sea Eagles 22 (Cheyse Blair, Peta Hiku 2, Daly Cherry-Evans tries; Jamie Lyon 3 goals)