The Panthers are within one win of the Harold Matthews Cup Grand Final after defeating Manly Sea Eagles 44-6 at Jubilee Oval on Friday.
Some eye-catching attacking play featuring late offloads, fleet-footed linebreaks and kicks ahead gave the Panthers an imposing 20-point lead at half-time and Manly never really got back in the contest.
The Panthers got off to the perfect start, earning a penalty in the first set. From the ensuing possession, five-eighth Jake Hay beat the defensive line with a simple change of angle and won the race to the try-line. He converted his try to give Panthers a 6-0 lead.
Three minutes later Hay slotted a penalty goal to extend the lead to eight points.
Manly opened their account with a slick succession of offloads eventually sending the ball into the hands of prop La Trell Fonua, who crashed over beside the posts. The successful conversion reduced the Panthers lead to 8-6.
Panthers hit back almost instantly as Jack Cole threw a lovely cut-out pass to winger Jimmy Donnelly, who dived over in the corner untouched. Hay couldn’t convert but the scoreboard read 12-6.
In the 22nd minute a late offload found Jake Hay, who spotted Sione Neiufi unmarked out wide and threw the perfect ball for the centre to touch down.
The points continued to flow for the Panthers as they went the length of the field from the restart. An incisive linebreak ended with a well-weighted kick ahead, and Hay was the man on the spot to swoop and score his second try of the game. He couldn’t convert however and the score remained 20-6.
In the final seconds before the break, Donnelly left his opposite winger grasping at thin air as he burnt him on the outside. The Panthers winger then found Cole on his inside and the halfback reached out to plant the ball over the line. With Hay’s conversion on target, the Panthers lead was out to 20 points.
HALF-TIME – Panthers 26 – 6 Sea Eagles
The two sides traded attacking sets to open the second half before Panthers prop Lafaele Tauapai was carried from the field with a lower leg injury in the 40th minute.
The Panthers attack which was so potent in the first stanza seemed to lose its rhythm and multiple sets on the Manly line failed to turn into points.
The Sea Eagles were also struggling to convert their attacking possession and halfback Daniel O’Donnell began resorting to hopeful chip kicks, to no avail.
With ten minutes left to play the Panthers finally found the try they were after as Byron Aiolupotea was too big from close range. The successful conversion extended the Panthers lead to 32-6.
As Manly conceded defeat, Jesse Buchan and Justice Sene grabbed late tries to make the final scoreboard even more convincing.
The Panthers will now prepare for a Preliminary Final showdown against Newcastle Knights next weekend.
FULL-TIME - Panthers 44 - 6 Sea Eagles