Penrith are off the canvas and back in the Finals fight after a thrilling 16-8 win over Manly at Pepper Stadium tonight.
Aided by vocal support from a strong home crowd of 14,625 and a 14-4 penalty count in their favour, the Panthers took a 12-4 lead into half-time and eventually ran out eight-point winners.
It was the first time this season that the Panthers defeated a top eight team.
Penrith got off to a great start when James Tamou crashed over after just three minutes, but had their lead reduced to just two when Dylan Walker returned the favour in the 11th minute.
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak bagged a controversial try just before half-time to ensure Penrith would take an eight point lead into the break, only adding two penalty goals to their point scoring tally in the second half.
While Manly fans will be screaming about the lopsided penalty count and the Watene-Zelezniak try, the Panthers had two potential tries taken off them – one via the on-field officials and another by The Bunker. Both could have easily been awarded four-pointers.
Panthers coach Anthony Griffin said he was pleased with the way his side responded after last week’s confidence-sapping loss to South Sydney.
“Manly are a quality side well entrenched in the top eight and they’ve been undefeated for the last four or five weeks. Our middle had to be strong and they were – it was a really solid 80 minute performance,” Griffin said.
“Everyone in the club was disappointed the way that day panned out last week. Tonight we didn’t get a lot of things right at times but the main thing was our attitude and our effort.”
A clearly frustrated Manly coach Trent Barrett said everything “went against” his team but he was proud of the defensive effort.
“How are you going to win a game at 14-4 penalties?” Barrett questioned.
When asked if he thought the penalty count was a reflection of the game, Barrett said: “What do you think? You watched it?”
“They scored a try off a kick and barge over with a mountain of possession, and a 14-4 penalty count,” he said.
“What do you say? I’ve never seen anything like it… ever.
“You can go through the 14 of them if you want.”
Barrett looked like he was about to explode, but clearly didn’t want to risk a $10,000 fine by bringing the integrity of the referees into question.
Two of the penalties against Manly were for back-chat.
“We played in circumstances where we couldn’t win with some of the things that went against us,” Barrett said.
Penrith will hold a fan day tomorrow before one of the game’s toughest road trips – a trek to Auckland to take on the Warriors on Friday night.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 15 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.