Highlights: Sea Eagles v Panthers (Rd 12)
The Panthers recovered from another slow start to lead 16-4 at halftime, but the Sea Eagle’s dominance in possession during the second half enabled them to lead 24-22 with three minutes remaining. Just as the upset win loomed, Penrith snatched victory to go top of the table for the first time in 2015.
Both teams scored five tries but Will Smith’s goal-kicking ultimately proved to be the difference with five goals from six attempts, including three from the right sideline.
Team changes were minimal for both sides. The Sea Eagles made just the one positional change while the Panthers reshuffled backline saw fullback Kieran Moss return from injury to replace centre, Robert Jennings, who was called up late to first grade the previous night.
The opening 25 minutes was a dour affair and gave little indication of being the thrilling contest this game was, as both sides were guilty of poor play.
The Panther’s failure to complete their sets as they looked to push the pass was matched by the Sea Eagle’s inability to ask questions of the competition’s best defence despite having dominated possession and territory.
The Sea Eagles finally played some creative footy to duly score the opening try of the game in the 26th minute, after Michael Chee Kam’s decoy run created the overlap for Delroy Berryman to score in the right corner.
The lead was short-lived as the Panthers scored three tries in the final 10 minutes of the half through Eddie Aiono (two) and Tom Eisenhuth, both beneficiaries of long cut-out passes from Isaac John and Adrian Davis that enabled their wingers to score in their respective corners, to give Penrith a 12-point lead at half-time.
The Sea Eagles started the second half in quick fashion and dominated possession to score three unanswered tries inside the opening 15 minutes to level the scores. Ben Fritz, on the wing for an injured David Williams, scored a double, while former Penrith centre Tony Satini was also instrumental, setting up Fritz’s first try before scoring a 30-metre solo try.
Kurt Aldridge’s horror afternoon with the boot prevented the Sea Eagles from regaining the lead but the halfback kicked his only goal for the afternoon to put Manly in front 18-16, after being gifted the penalty 25 metres from in front in the 57th minute.
The Panthers led 22-18 five minutes later after quick hands enabled Aiono to score his third try in the right corner. The Sea Eagles regained the lead with 10 minutes remaining, courtesy of a converted try to Michael Chee Kam. The Sea Eagles should have closed out the game but a poor kick from Vave, enabled Moss a 60-metre kick return that put the Panthers on the attack before receiving a penalty 10 metres from right in front to level the scores.
The Panthers worked themselves into position as John shaped to take the field goal attempt, only to take play out right before an inside pass found Tupou Sopoaga, who kicked the amazing field goal from 30 metres out wide out to break the hearts of the Sea Eagles.
The win became a formality when the Sea Eagle’s short kick-off backfired which allowed Chris Smith to break clear before finding Aiono on his outside to score his fourth try of the afternoon and secure a remarkable victory for the Panthers.
Next Saturday represents Country Round as Penrith travel to Port Macquarie to play Wentworthville while Manly take on North Sydney at Scully Park, Tamworth with both games kicking off at 6pm.
Penrith 31 (E Aiono 4, T Eisenhuth tries; W Smith 5 goals; T Sopoaga 1 field goal) def Manly 24 (B Fritz 2, D Berryman, T Satini, M Chee Kam tries; K Aldridge M Rudolph goals)