BY STEWART MOSES
At Pepper Stadium
Penrith have firmly entrenched themselves in the top four after a come-from-behind 24-16 win over a Sea Eagles side that played with plenty of character despite their lowly position on the ladder at Pepper Stadium.
The Panthers struggled for much of the game before a 65th minute penalty goal to Will Smith followed by a late try to Brendan Attwood sealed back-to-back wins for the defending premiers. Manly have now lost three close games in a row having lost previously to Newtown and Mounties.
The Sea Eagles came into this game boosted by the return from injury of back-rower Blake Leary and prop James Hasson. Penrith announced the shock inclusion of boom back-rower Bryce Cartwright, but lost Isaac John (NRL) and Tupou Sopoaga (injury), replaced by Adrian Davis and Wellington Albert (on debut).
Manly got off to a flying start scoring in just the 2nd minute when front-rower Tyson Andrews from dummy half, crashed through some feeble Penrith line defence to score underneath the posts.
Their lead was soon doubled to 12 in bizarre circumstances after 11 minutes when Cartwright raced off the line to attempt an intercept but mistimed his run and created the hole for Michael Chee Kam to race through and score.
Penrith were dealt a further blow when Davis was forced off the field with a re-occurrence of the hamstring injury that had sidelined him since Round 2, but were able to half Manly’s lead in the 18th minute after half Sam Scarlett, standing one off the ruck, went to the line before he stepped inside to score from close range.
Manly pushed the lead back out to ten in the 25th minute when winger, Dom Reardon scored a simple try after his angled run back infield from ten metres out was met with little resistance from the Panthers defence.
Penrith despite being outplayed for most of the half reduced the deficit to six at half-time after Chris Smith scored a classy try after some fine lead-up work that featured a deft pass from Robert Jennings which put the back-rower away down the right edge before crashing over the top of David Williams to score in the corner.
Scores were soon level 10 minutes into the second half when a textbook right shift created the numbers for Robert Jennings to send veteran winger David Simmons in for the try.
Tempers started to flair midway through the second half and one such altercation saw Penrith hooker Sione Katoa placed on report. An error from Tyson Andrews at the play the ball resulted in another fracas which saw referee Drew Oultram award Penrith a penalty from 32m out which Will Smith duly converted to give them the lead for the first time with fifteen minutes remaining.
As Manly’s resolve began to falter on the back of key errors, Penrith capitalised scoring a late try through Attwood in the 75th minute after Katoa drifted across the face of the goal-line defence before finding his lock forward running a great line to stroll through and seal a 24-16 win for the Panthers.
For Penrith, Robert Jennings, despite his eligibility for Holden Cup, is starting to find his feet at this level having had a hand in three of their four tries, while for Manly, hooker Jayden Hodges worked tirelessly both in attack and defence.
Next Saturday, Penrith again play at Pepper Stadium when they face the fifth-placed New Zealand Warriors, while Manly play the Bulldogs next Friday night at ANZ Stadium, desperate to record their first win since Round 2.
Penrith 24 (S Scarlett, C Smith, D Simmons, B Attwood tries; W Smith 4 goals) def Manly 16 (T Andrews, M Chee Kam, D Reardon tries; K Aldridge 2 goals) at Pepper Stadium. Referee: Drew Oultram. Touch Judges: Mitchell Stone and Brenden Wood. Halftime: Manly 16-10. Goalkickers: Will Smith (Penrith) 4 from 5, Kurt Aldridge (Manly) 2 from 3.