Panthers steal victory at Lottoland
The Panthers produced a comeback for the ages at Lottoland on Saturday afternoon, bouncing back from an 18-point deficit to defeat Manly Sea Eagles 28-24.
The Sea Eagles led 24-6 with less than 15 minutes remaining before tries by Josh Mansour, Isaah Yeo, Waqa Blake and Nathan Cleary saw the Panthers snatch the unlikeliest of victories.
Errors by the Sea Eagles gifted the Panthers two attacking opportunities inside the opening 5 minutes, however some clunky attack saw Penrith come up empty-handed.
The Sea Eagles then opened the scoring in the 13th minute when Daly Cherry-Evans slotted a penalty goal after back-to-back infringements by the Panthers.
The Sea Eagles threatened to score the first try in the 20th minute when Jake Trbojevic grubbered to the in-goal after the Panthers failed to diffuse a bomb. However, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak rushed across and batted the football dead.
Tyrone Peachey helped Dean Whare mark his 100th appearance for Panthers with a try in the 26th minute, sweeping around the back and creating a gap for the centre to exploit out wide. Nathan Cleary added the two points from the sideline to put the Panthers ahead 6-2.
The Panthers shifted to the right-hand side again in the 31st minute, but the Sea Eagles scrambled and forced an error to maintain the four-point margin.
A line break by Whare in the 35th minute put the Sea Eagles on the backfoot, but Dylan Walker held Cleary off the ball to quash the opportunity. The Panthers received a penalty, however the Sea Eagles held on as the attack fizzled out.
Josh Mansour did well to prevent a 40/20 by Cherry-Evans in the 38th minute but was forced to concede a dropout. Manase Fainu then slipped through some poor Panthers goal line defence to score, and Cherry-Evans' conversion edged the Sea Eagles ahead as the halftime siren sounded.
HALF-TIME: SEA EAGLES 8-6 PANTHERS
Brian Kelly muscled through the ruck and into the backfield in the 49th minute, and Cherry-Evans backed up to slide over under the black dot. The halfback's conversion extended the Sea Eagles lead to eight points.
A handling error and penalty by the Panthers carried the Sea Eagles upfield, where Kelly crossed at the end of a set piece. Cherry-Evans' conversion attempt was off the mark and the score remained 18-6.
Tom Trbojevic's grubber to the in-goal bounced cruelly for the Panthers, sitting up for Kelly to reel the ball in the field of play and touch down. Cherry-Evans added the extras to send the Sea Eagles ahead 24-6 after 59 minutes.
Cherry-Evans looked to put the result beyond doubt in the 64th minute when he lined up a penalty goal, but he struck the upright and the margin remained 18 points.
The Panthers gave themselves a glimmer of hope when James Maloney sent a cut-out pass to Waqa Blake, who produced a terrific offload for Josh Mansour to dive over in the corner. Cleary failed to convert, leaving the Panthers with the task of chasing down a 14-point deficit in the final 11 minutes.
From the kick-off, the Panthers charged upfield where Sione Katoa went short to Isaah Yeo, who spun away from a number of Sea Eagles defenders to plant the ball down and give the Panthers a realistic chance. Cleary's two-pointer closed the gap to 24-16 with 9 minutes remaining.
The Panthers then clinched their third try in the space of 4 minutes when Viliame Kikau got an offload away to Cleary, who broke away and linked up with Waqa Blake, who streaked away to score. Cleary kicked the goal to narrow the gap to 2 points and set up a grandstand finish.
The Panthers then completed their miraculous comeback in the 74th minute when Tom Trbojevic fumbled the football inside his own 10 metres, and Cleary picked up the scraps to put Penrith ahead. The halfback's conversion gave the Panthers an astonishing four-point cushion.
The Sea Eagles' final roll of the dice was a bomb directed at Tyrone Peachey, but the new fullback bravely diffused the situation to ensure an incredible Panthers triumph.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 28 - SEA EAGLES 24