Manly coach Trent Barrett expects Daly Cherry-Evans to be better for the run after the Queensland and Australian playmaker returned to spark the Sea Eagles to a 26-10 victory over Newcastle at Hunter Stadium.
Returning earlier than anticipated from a high-ankle sprain, Cherry-Evans was below his best but did enough to steer the Sea Eagles home against the inexperienced Knights.
On a day when both teams lost key players to potentially serious injuries – Jarrod Mullen (hamstring) and Peter Mata’utia (knee) for Newcastle and Brett Stewart (hamstring) and Tom Trbojevic (ankle) for Manly – Barrett was relieved to see Cherry-Evans finish the game intact.
“He got through unscathed, which was good,” said Barrett, who also hopes to welcome back hooker Matt Parcell from a hamstring injury against North Queensland at Brookvale on Saturday.
“He blew a few cobwebs out, but it’s certainly good to have Cherry back.
“We’ve just got to keep improving.”
Cherry-Evans created a try for Tom Trbojevic in the 60th minute to give Manly a 20-6 lead, capping a 15-minute period in which the Sea Eagles dominated possession and field position.
In a bizarre turnaround Newcastle scored from the restart, Tyler Randell crashing over to make in 20-10 after Jamie Lyon sloppily batted back a short Dane Gagai kick-off.
But any slight hopes of a comeback were put to bed when lock Jake Trbojevic scored a converted try in the 78th minute.
Ten minutes earlier Trbojevic had to watch as his brother was helped from the field. He in turn had replaced Stewart at fullback after the former NSW and Australian custodian limped off in the 45th minute.
Barrett said Trbojevic was of more immediate concern than Stewart, though he did not expect either player would be available to back up against the Cowboys on Saturday night.
Mullen had collapsed to the ground after bursting into the clear in the 67th minute, and Knights coach Nathan Brown did not expect him or Mata’utia to be available for selection any time soon.
Mata’utia, who returned to Newcastle from the Dragons last week, lasted just 26 minutes of his homecoming game after sustaining damage to the medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
Brown said Mata’utia could miss six to eight weeks and Mullen even longer.
Knights prop Sam Mataora was reported in the 65th minute for a possible crusher tackle.
Manly had taken a 10-6 lead to the break when prop Brenton Lawrence crashed over to score in the final seconds of the first half.
Replays showed the ball rolled loose as Newcastle defenders tried to halt Lawrence’s progress but review official Ashley Klein could not find enough evidence to overturn referee Gavin Badger’s on-field ruling of a try.
The Knights had no such luck earlier in the half when wingers Nathan Ross and Aku Uate were both denied tries by the bunker.