The Bulldogs gave the finals-bound Sea Eagles an almighty scare in a 36-18 loss on Sunday, with a controversial try awarded to Tom Trbojevic proving crucial.
Trboejvic's second-half hat-trick blew the game played in Redcliffe open after his side trailed at half-time but it was his first try that upset Canterbury's players and coach.
The Bulldogs fought hard to earn a 12-10 half-time lead but endured a horror opening to the second stanza, conceding four straight sets and turning away 25 consecutive tackles in their own red-zone – including a possible obstruction play that could have been a Bulldogs penalty.
The run of Manly possession culminated with Trbojevic's first try of the afternoon despite a magnificent try-saving attempt from Jack Hetherington, with the Sea Eagles fullback ruled to have got the ball to the ground despite appearing to lose possession in the process.
Match: Sea Eagles v Bulldogs
Round 24 -
Venue: Moreton Daily Stadium, Redcliffe
The decision incensed Bulldogs coach Trent Barrett.
"The try to Trbojevic which wasn't a try, how they get that wrong I just don't know and it changes the game," he said. "That was a bad one."
A penalty goal soon after, given after Joe Stimson was ruled to have pulled the hair of Martin Taupau, made it a six-point gap and left Stimson on report.
Bunker confirms try to Turbo despite amazing effort from Hetherington
Trbojevic then all-but ended the chances of an upset when he ran onto a clever Josh Schuster pass to score in the 66th minute before bagging his hat trick in the 73rd.
Impressive rookie Jackson Topine stole a try back from the next kick-off which Manly allowed to bounce before a Daly Cherry-Evans intercept right on full-time handed Jason Saab a try that blew the final score out to 36-18.
The result moves Manly back ahead of the Eels and Roosters and means they only need to beat North Queensland in round 25 to guarantee a top-four finish, which Manly coach Des Hasler admitted was crucial.
"The way the semi-final format is structured, the top four, those two chances, there's a certain criteria how you manage it," Hasler said.
"We've got to finish it off and get the job done next week.
"There were some good patches. Some areas we need to be better in. We know that, we recognise that.
"You can't take away that they had a real go, Canterbury today. You can't take that away from them. We did what we needed to do."
Things had seemed to be going to script early when Saab crossed in just the eighth minute from a regulation overlap.
Schuster floats back across field to hand Tubos his double
Whether it was complacency, an eye on what's to come or just one of those days, the Sea Eagles then bombed a number of attacking chances, including what would have been a gift second try for Saab which the winger dropped over the line in the 24th minute.
Another error from the winger just one set later handed the Dogs an attacking scrum with Doorey crossing from a set play, receiving an inside ball to break through the middle of the Manly defence to put his side up 6-4.
From the next set, a clean break from Brandon Wakeham set the Dogs back on the attack with Jayden Okunbor scooping up a wayward pass to step his way to the line and make it 12-4.
Got to love a scrum play
Daly Cherry-Evans set up his side's second, stepping into space to send Haumole Olakau'atu over as Manly went into the sheds down by two.
In the set after Trbojevic's first try, Josh Aloiai was penalised and sin-binned while in possession for lashing out with his boot in a tackle but the Dogs were unable to capitalise on their one-man advantage before Manly pulled away once it went back to 13-on-13.
In a huge injury blow for Trent Barrett's squad, emerging back-rower Matt Doorey was taken off with a suspected ACL injury. If confirmed he would miss the early parts of 2022. Hetherington was also placed on report for a high tackle.