Manly jumped four spots on the NRL ladder and topped its highest score of the season in a 48-18 rout of Cronulla at Shark Park on Saturday night.
Triple threat: Anthony Watmough dives over for one of his three first-half tries. (Getty Images: Mark Nolan)
Sitting in ninth spot coming into the round 19 clash, the Sea Eagles needed a victory margin of more than 16 points to clear the logjam of three teams - Brisbane, Sydney and Gold Coast - tied on 22 points.
They did so with ease thanks to seven first-half tries including three to unstoppable second-rower Anthony Watmough and a brace to Tony Williams, Manly enjoying a 36-point advantage at the break.
The Sharks never looked like a threat early on and at times were absolutely dismal, personified best by full-back Nathan Gardner's shocking first 40 minutes.
He was brushed aside by both Watmough and Williams on consecutive scoring drives and when his challenge on a high ball under the posts was dismissed by Jamie Lyon, Watmough popped over for his third.
Michael Robertson and Kieran Foran joined the first-half try-fest as the clock wound down and the Sharks' spirits dropped further.
But whatever coach Ricky Stuart told the Sharks at the break worked, and they came out of the sheds re-energised, scoring two tries inside the first 10 minutes.
Gardner did his best to make amends when he threaded his way through Manly's forwards and raced away for Cronulla's first points in the opening minutes of the second half.
Soon after that, skipper Paul Gallen regathered a lucky rebound and crossed to score when John Morris' grubber kick hit the upright.
But Lyon and Chris Bailey scored late four-pointers to seal Manly's comprehensive victory.
The eventual scoreboard difference was short of the Sea Eagles' largest margin of victory over Cronulla, a mark set in 1984 when they thumped the Sharks 50-14.
Aggressive Manly centre Steve Matai could find himself in hot water with the tribunal again after a high tackle and a late hit on Cordoba within a 30-second span in the first half, and a high shot on Grant Millington after half-time.
Manly: 48 (A Watmough 3, T Williams 2, B Robertson, K Foran, J Lyon tries; S Rodney 3/6 conversions, J Lyon 3/3 conversion)
Cronulla: 18 (N Gardner, P Gallen, J Cordova tries; L Covell 3/3 conversions)