The Penrith Panthers NYC side has claimed the 2015 Holden Cup with a 34-18 victory over Manly Sea Eagles at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.
In his rookie season as a head coach, Cameron Ciraldo expertly guided the young Panthers to the minor premiership, followed by the team’s second premiership in three years.
After a tight tussle in the first half, the Panthers pulled away in the second stanza as the Sea Eagles wilted in the soaring temperatures.
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With only three minutes on the clock, the Panthers got off to the perfect start as hooker Soni Luke skipped out of dummy half and strolled through a yawning gap in the defence. His try was converted by Dylan Edwards for an early 6-0 lead.
Manly earned a repeat set in the 10th minute as Brent Naden was driven back into the in-goal. However Edwards shut down the ensuing attack with a well-timed tackle to force his opposite winger over the sideline.
The Panthers turned defenced into attack and in the 14th minute Tyrone May dummied and went himself on the fifth tackle. The makeshift playmaker crashed over the tryline with two tacklers hanging off him. Edwards again converted for a 12-0 lead.
Six minutes later Manly’s star fullback Tom Trbojevic looked like he was destined to open their account but some desperate Penrith defence pulled him down centimetres short of the tryline.
However in the 23rd minute the tacklers couldn’t repeat the dose and an offload from Sea Eagles five-eighth Will Pearsall saw Trbojevic slip through a gap for a try. Hooker Hugh Pratt slotted the conversion to make the score 12-6.
The Panthers didn’t wait long to hit back. An error from Manly winger Mitch Thomas under the high ball gave Penrith an attacking scrum in the 27th minute. Quick hands to the right saw Robert Jennings sprint to the outside of his defender and make the tryline. Edwards’ attempted conversion was waved away but Penrith led 16-6.
A dropped ball from forward Paea Pua with the Panthers right on the attack would prove costly before the break. It was all too easy for Manly at the other end of the field as backrower Luke Garner broke through some flimsy Penrith defence to score. The successful conversion made the score 16-12.
HALFTIME – Panthers 16-12
The second half opened with an arm wrestle for midfield supremacy as both sides traded strong runs. It looked like the Sea Eagles had won the battle in the 47th minute as Thomas broke free down the right touchline but his foot just touched the chalk under pressure from Naden.
The Panthers’ hopes took a blow as Jennings was assisted from the field with half an hour left in the contest. However they rebounded from the disappointment with a try to Maliko Filino in the 51st minute. Some fancy footwork from Jarome Luai bamboozled the Manly defence before a spread to the left found the space for the Penrith centre to score. Edwards slotted the conversion from out wide for a 22-12 lead.
Manly gave themselves a prime attacking opportunity moments later on the back of a perfectly-executed 40/20 kick. However Naden was in the right place at the right time to clean up their dangerous grubber on the fifth tackle.
The Panthers would then extend their lead in the 60th minute as Luai left the Sea Eagles defenders red-faced with a jinking run to the tryline. Would-be tacklers stood and watched as the playmaker ran side-to-side and eventually through their broken line. Edwards nailed the conversion for a 28-12 lead.
From scoring tries at one end, Luai turned his attention to saving them at the other as he did just enough to stop Manly's Nicho Hynes from reeling in a deft 68th-minute grubber to the in-goal.
However the Sea Eagles would get the try they were after as Trbojevic drew all the attention and left Liam Knight unmarked up the middle to cruise through and score. The conversion made the score 28-18 with seven minutes left in the decider.
Luke tried another swift dart out of dummy half in the 75th minute but was held up over the line. But the Panthers went on to seal the result two minutes later as Filino showed strength and agility to offload and send Fuimanu Enese over for a try in the corner. Edwards then kicked the sideline conversion to make the final score 34-18.
FULLTIME - Panthers 34-18