Penrith have qualified for back to back Finals campaigns for the first time since 2003-04 – but they gave fans an almighty scare against Manly at Lottoland tonight.
The Panthers were totally outclassed by the Sea Eagles in front of more than 14,000 fans, losing 28-12 with two late tries adding some respect to the lopsided scoreline.
Manly were in front 28-0 with 27 minutes to play – suddenly putting Penrith’s Finals chances in serious doubt with for and against becoming a major enemy.
The Panthers managed to regain their composure however and will limp into a Finals battle next week either with Cronulla or tonight’s opponent, the Sea Eagles.
Either way it seems certain the Panthers are destined for a trip to Allianz Stadium on either Saturday night or Sunday afternoon.
Brian Kelly opened the scoring for Manly in the 7th minute, setting the tone for a match that was even more one-sided than the final scoreline suggested.
Daly Cherry-Evans and Jake Trbojevic added tries before the break to give Manly a commanding 16-0 lead at half-time.
Any chance of a Penrith comeback was thrown out the window when Tom Trbojevic crossed in the first set after the break – adding to Penrith’s woes.
Anthony Griffin’s decision to play Dean Whare at fullback backfired – he struggled and was eventually shifted back to centre with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak playing fullback.
If the Dragons beat Canterbury tomorrow, Penrith will play Cronulla at Allianz Stadium in week one of the Finals – most likely on Saturday night.
Should the Bulldogs cause a boilover, Penrith and Manly will meet again – this time at Allianz Stadium.
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.