The Manly Warringah Sea Eagles went down to a depleted Penrith Panthers side on Saturday night at Pepper Stadium.
Both sides were looking to return to winning ways after losing three consecutive games.
The game was buzzing in the hours leading up to the clash with speculation over who would run out for both sides. In a change up for the Panthers half back Peter Wallace was sidelined with a knee injury, however centre Jamal Idris was deemed fit to play.
For the Sea Eagles, a late withdrawal from Brett Stewart saw Steve Matai move back into the side. With Stewarts absence Peta Hiku moved into the fullback spot and Tom Trbojevic retained his place on the wing.
The Panthers got off to a blistering start when they scored of the back of a penalty. Josh Mansour received a bullet pass from fullback Matt Moylan and the winger had enough strength a pace to get around youngster Trbojevic.
Manly worked their way slowly into the game and went very close to scoring their first try of the evening when, Braydon Wiliame’s tap back found Foran. But the five-eighth was unable to ground the ball as it was dislodged from his grasp.
Manly continued to apply the pressure as their kicking game began to test the Panthers backline.
Manly then suffered a huge loss when Trbojevic went of injured when landing awkwardly after contesting a kick against Mansour.
The Sea Eagles parked themselves in Panthers territory and the pressure eventually told. Kieran Foran’s grubber kick was placed to perfection and the man to react the fastest was Justin Horo who did very well to ground the ball in amongst three Panthers players. Peta Hiku was successful with his kick and the score was tied up.
The game then settled down in chances but the big hits kept coming first from Jamal Idris who axed winger Cheyse Blair in half. His hit was then followed up by returning centre Matai who drove Dallin Watene-Zelezniak straight into the ground.
The Panthers had a golden chance to retake the lead after Tyrone Peachey burst straight through. He ran for nearly 60 metres but his support play never arrived and when he did have the support his pass was ordinary at best, and the ball hit the deck only for Hiku to gather it up and mop up the danger.
The lead was eventually taken by Manly who won the ball back after a Penrith error. Not making any headway on a solid Panthers defence. The Sea Eagles decided to take two points when they were awarded a penalty.
This was the last act of the half with the Silvertails heading back into the dressing room with an 8-6 lead.
The second half began with the same intensity level as the end of the first half and both sides muscled up in defence.
Manly continued to use their kicking game well, as Daly Cherry-Evans applied more pressure on the Panthers fullback Moylan, who just dealt with another pin point grubber kick.
Manly tried to break through but a stubborn Penrith defence held and eventually the storm was weathered and the Panthers were back on the attack and it took an immense tackle from Matai to stop a rampaging Idris at the line.
Yet, the Panthers kept pushing and after they forced a repeat set, Mansour was played in again after a set play allowed him just enough room to put the ball down.
It was turning from bad to worse for Manly who gave away another cheap penalty, which set up the Panthers for another try. This time it was Waqa Blake who scored, bursting through the line of a nice short ball sliding right underneath the posts for his first try in the NRL.
The pendulum swung heavily towards the Panthers whose momentum was just to much for the Sea Eagles. The confidence flowed through the team who threw the ball around with vigour and freedom. Their next try was a testimony to their confidence and their park footy style allowed Api Koroisau an unmarked Manly try line.
The conversion from Moylan went straight over the black dot and the Panther lead 22-6.
Manly eventually got themselves back in good field position and they went very close when Jake Trbojevic was ruled to have been held up by the video referee.
However they didn’t have to wait long when the next set of six saw Matai cross. A set play from Manly went horribly wrong and Cheyse Blair was left to deal with the scraps, however the winger produced an unbelievable offload in a tackle of three players and Matai complemented his efforts by supporting him.
Manly battled their way back into the match but too many errors in key positions prevented them from applying any real pressure on the men from the mountains.
In the end it was the Panthers quick fire display in the second half that won the match and they ran out 22-12 in a hard fought battle at Pepper Stadium.