Canterbury have stunned Manly with a 30-16 win at ANZ Stadium on Sunday afternoon with fullback Will Hopoate – who last year didn't even play Sundays – putting in a virtuoso performance.
The size of the loss drops Manly to eighth, below the Cowboys, and ensures their finals hopes remain in doubt. It represents an alarming slide for a team that was inside the top four heading into Round 20 just a month ago with Trent Barrett's men now having four losses in their past five games.
Dogs fans could be forgiven for wondering where this attacking mojo has been for most of the season. Coach Des Hasler's late positional switches – Moses Mbye returned to the halves with Michael Lichaa recalled at hooker and Matt Frawley dropping to the bench – appeared to pay dividends.
However it was fullback Hopoate, playing in the same spot he has all season (barring a six-week injury layoff early in the year) who made the difference, creating three of his team's first four tries with perfect cut-out passes on the Dogs' right edge.
The Dogs – who average just four points in first halves in 2017 – piled on three first half tries before running away with it in the second.
The teams went set-for set in the opening 40 but conversions were hard to come by as Moses Mbye (0/3) and Matt Wright (1/2) managed just one goal from five between them in the half.
Canterbury scored the first, third and fifth tries of the half with winger Marcelo Montoya the beneficiary of two sublime cut-out passes from Hopoate on Canterbury's right edge. The other came on the opposite side of the field as Josh Morris offloaded for his brother Brett to score right on the stroke of half time.
In between, Jake Trbojevic was the beneficiary of a pair of great offloads from Marty Taupau and Api Koroisau to score while a poorly set Canterbury defensive line from a scrum allowed Brian Kelly a simple try through the Dogs right edge.
The Dogs bucked the try-for-try trend early in the second half by backing up Morris's try late in the first half with a Brenko Lee four-pointer early in the second as yet another Hopoate cut-out – his third try assist of the afternoon – created the points.
It got worse for the Sea Eagles when Josh Morris got a try of his own in the 63rd minute after Daly Cherry-Evans – who had an unusually quiet game after being laid up with the flu all week – spilled a tricky Matt Frawley grubber near the Manly posts.
Josh Morris then burned the Manly skipper from inside the Dogs half to send his brother away for a long-range try in the 70th minute to seal the match for Canterbury.
A late consolation try to Lewis Brown did little to ease the pain of a 30-16 loss for Manly who now desperately need to beat the Warriors in New Zealand next week to stay in the finals zone.
Canterbury Bulldogs 30 (Montoya 2, B Morris 2, Lee, J Morris tries; Mbye 3 goals) defeated Manly Sea Eagles 16 (J Trbojevic, Kelly, Brown tries; Wright 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Half time: Bulldogs 14-10. Crowd: 8,912.