The Panthers marked their return to Pepper Stadium with a 16-8 win over Manly to keep their finals hopes alive.
A flawless display from the boot of Nathan Cleary helped seal a vital win as the Panthers kept in touch with the top eight.
James Tamou was the unlikely source of the opening try in the 3rd minute after some crafty work from Tyrone Peachey earnt a penalty for a repeat set on the Manly line. The prop got the better of his opposite man Martin Tapau to spin away from his tackle and plant the ball underneath the crossbar allowing Cleary a simple conversion to make it 6-0.
Manly responded by forcing back-to-back drop-outs leading to a Dylan Walker try 12 minutes in to the contest. Daly Cherry-Evans sent a message to Origin selectors with a perfectly weighted cut-out pass for his centre to poke through the line, but his attempt to convert his own try struck the upright, keeping the hosts in front 6-4.
A drop-out of their own nearly led to the Panthers second try but a mistimed Trent Merrin offload sat kindly for the defence to intercept and defuse the danger.
The Panthers peppered the Manly line for the remainder of the first half but looked to have come away empty-handed until Dallin Watene-Zelezniak claimed a Cleary kick to push his side out to beyond a converted try. Cleary’s conversion crept inside the right upright to make it 12-4.
HALF-TIME: Penrith Panthers 12 – 4 Manly Sea Eagles
Much like the first-half, a penalty would reap the opening points as the visitors quickly went about clawing the Panthers back. Despite a dubious pass from Cherry-Evans in the lead up, Tom Trbojevic was able to gather a Shaun Lane offload to bring the score line back to 12-8 after Api Koroisau’s conversion struck the upright and bounced clear.
A penalty in front of the uprights afforded the Panthers a straightforward two points to push their lead out to 14-8 just shy of the hour mark before yet more controversy from the referee denied Watene-Zelezniak his second.
MATCH HIGHLIGHTS: See the tries and key moments that lead the Panthers to victory
A towering kick from Cleary was knocked on by the Sea Eagles before Corey Harawira-Naera scooped up the rebound, but was ruled to have lost possession in doing so, allowing the visitors to escape unscathed.
Cleary’s second penalty goal took his side beyond a converted try in the 69th minute, which they would cling to, as the Panthers secured victory in front of a passionate crowd of 14,625.
FULL-TIME: Penrith Panthers 16 – 8 Manly Sea Eagles