The Panthers have crawled in to the finals series despite being punished 28-12 by a determined Manly outfit at Lottoland.
The Panthers confirmed their spot in the finals after avoiding a 38-point loss that would have left them sweating on other results.
The visitors were never in the contest after a blistering start from the home side caught them off guard and set the tone for whole game.
The significance of the match for the home side was evident early on as they added the opening points of the game in the 7th minute off the back of some intense defensive pressure.
Centre Brian Kelly was the beneficiary of some early service from Tom Trbojevic and got the better of his opposite man Waqa Blake to touch down in the corner for a 4-0 lead.
They were nearly in again after more sustained pressure on the Panthers line led to Dylan Walker’s put down in the 18th minute but the try was disallowed for a forward pass to give the Panthers some much needed relief.
However, the Sea Eagles weren’t to be denied just moments later when Kelly would again leave Blake reeling, before combining with Daly Cherry-Evans on his inside, for the halfback to stroll away and extend their lead to 10-0 following Matthew Wright’s conversion.
A 40/20 to Blake Green on the half hour mark laid the platform for their third try through Jake Trbojevic.
The Bunker was asked to intervene as James Fisher-Harris made a last-ditch effort to hold his opposite number up but insufficient evidence saw the on-field decision stand. Wright’s conversion stretched their lead further for a comfortable lead at the break.
HALF-TIME: Manly Sea Eagles 16 – 0 Penrith Panthers
Anthony Griffin would’ve barely made it back to his coach’s box by the time the Sea Eagles ran in for their fourth try immediately from the restart. Tom Trbojevic exploited the Panthers’ right edge again to carry his side up field, then backing up on the next phase of play to score. Wright’s conversion made the score 22-0.
Nerves started to creep in for the Panthers when the margin hit 28 points in the 53rd minute after Curtis Sironen marked his return from injury with a rampaging effort to brush off the tackle of Peter Wallace. Wright had no problems adding the extras from right in front.
A try to Tyrone May five minutes from time was more than just a consolation as it brought the margin back to 22 points and ensured they would remain in the top half of the table.
An added try in the dying seconds by Reagan Campbell-Gillard would cut the margin down further but would add little respectability to the scoreline after being thoroughly outplayed.
The Panthers will now be tasked with turning a disappointing performance around if they are any chance of making an impression during the business end of the season.
FULL-TIME: Manly Sea Eagles 28 – 12 Penrith Panthers