A rampaging Siosifa Talakai has single-handedly led Cronulla to a 34-22 victory over Manly, scoring two tries and setting up three up others in one of the great individual performances of the NRL season.
In front of a crowd of 9611 at Shark Park on Thursday night, burly centre Talakai finished the evening with a remarkable statline which read: 241 running metres and 11 tackle busts, to go with his two tries and three assists.
It was a performance which has thrown Talakai, a former garbage collector who bounced between clubs, into discussions to play centre for NSW in Origin I.
With Latrell Mitchell racing the clock for fitness, Talakai's fine run of form could catapult him into Blues contention.
"It would be hard to say he doesn't (deserve to be in the picture)," Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon said.
"He's more than capable physically. He's playing fantastic footy."
Cronulla raced out to a 32-0 lead at halftime and despite a rally from Manly did enough to hold on.
"I'm really happy off the back of going to Melbourne and having a five-day turnaround into a win tonight," Fitzgibbon added.
Talakai's impact was so devastating that unfortunate opposing centre Morgan Harper was hooked at halftime and replaced by rookie Tolutau Koula after missing six tackles on his return from COVID-19.
"COVID-19 underdid him a bit," said Manly coach Des Hasler.
"He won't use that as an excuse. He'll dust himself off and he'll live to fight another day.
"We shoud've competed better in the first half. There's plenty of confidence that we can take out of that second half."
The loss ended the Sea Eagles' four-game winning streak as Cronulla strengthened their grip on third spot on the ladder.
In a start which set the tone for the night, Manly skipper Daly Cherry-Evans dropped the first-half kick-off and was bundled into the in-goal.
Off the next set Talakai ran straight between Harper and winger Jason Saab for his first try before a second soon after where he trampled Harper.
The Sharks' man continued his path of destruction by turning provider for both tries in Ronaldo Mulitalo's short-range double.
Talakai's third try assist of the night was his most impressive and brought the home crowd to its feet when he charged from the halfway line and stabbed a grubber in-goal from 10 metres out for Will Kennedy to touch down.
Teig Wilton went over on the stroke of halftime after Manly had been reduced to 12 men when Haumole Olakau'atu was sent to the sin bin for a high shot on Aiden Tolman.
Cronulla struggled to regain their ascendancy in the second half with Christian Tuipulotu and Taniela Paseka cutting the deficit for Manly.
Lachlan Croker and Olakau'atu also dotted down to reduce Cronulla's lead to 10 points with 15 minutes to go.
The Sharks held on with stand-in captain Nicho Hynes converting a penalty to nullify Manly's hopes of a late comeback.
Paseka (knee), Dylan Walker (quad) and Andrew Davey (shoulder) all picked up injuries in the loss to add to Manly's growing list of absentees.
Australian Associated Press