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Manly moves ahead as upsets reign in NRL

SYDNEY -- Manly extended its lead to four points atop Australia's National Rugby League table as it achieved a hard-fought 22-12 win over the New Zealand Warriors in the weekend's 20th round while its closest rivals suffered shock losses.

Second-placed Penrith went down 18-16 to last-placed Cronulla, the third-placed Bulldogs were beaten 20-12 by North Queensland and reigning premiers the Roosters lost 16-12 to Newcastle, giving Manly breathing space in first place.

At the same time the Melbourne Storm solidified their place inside the top eight with a 30-8 win over eighth-placed Brisbane.

Parramatta kept its slim playoffs chances alive with a 24-18 win over Gold Coast and St. George Illwarra moved into 10th place with a 28-12 win over Wests.

Manly inflicted the Warriors' first home defeat of the season and posted its third-straight win to step up its bid for the minor premiership.

Cheyse Blair and Petu Hiku scored first half tries to give Manly a 10-6 lead at the break and they sealed the win with Hiku's second and a late try to halfback Daly Cherry-Evans. The Warriors lost influential halfback Shaun Johnson to a groin injury shortly before the start of play and their second loss in a row knocked them back to ninth place in a tightening playoffs race.

Penrith suffered its first back-to-back losses of the season as it went down to Cronulla on a rain-soaked ground, falling further away from the top of the table. Coach Ivan Cleary said his players may have been guilty of looking beyond their immediate challenge to the latter stages of the playoffs race.

“You just want to finish as high as you can but I think if we start looking too far ahead, which we (might have), you can lose your way,” he said. “The reality is, and what we've seen over the last few weeks in the competition, it's such a tight comp. It's been like that the whole year.

“We've seen enough upsets for everyone to understand that if you start looking too far ahead and trying to work out who might finish where or whatnot, you might just take your eye off the ball. At this point, we've just lost two in a row, so the next focus is making sure we play well next week.”

Halfback Cooper Cronk returned from a six-week absence with a broken arm to score a try and create three others as Melbourne trounced the Broncos 30-8 at Brisbane's Lang Park. Cronk set up Melbourne's first two tries with kicks, giving them a 12-0 lead after 15 minutes then provided the short pass from which Ryan Hoffman scored in the 52nd minute. He scored the last of the Storm's five tries near fulltime while Cameron Smith kicked five goals to become the most prolific points-scoring forward in NRL history.

Superstar Sonny Bill Williams will be sidelined for four weeks after suffering a broken thumb in the Roosters' narrow loss to Newcastle. Joey Leilua scored a 78th-minute try to clinch the win for the Knights while Tyrone Roberts scored his seventh try of the season in an influential performance.

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