The Panthers held off a fast-finishing Manly Sea Eagles to win 15-12 at Panthers Stadium on Thursday.
The understrength Panthers led 15-0 with 10 minutes to play before the Sea Eagles scored two late tries to set up a nail-biting finish, but the Panthers held their nerve to make it two in a row for the first time this season.
Liam Martin terrorised Manly on the left edge in the absence of Viliame Kikau, whose late withdrawal was a cruel blow with Nathan Cleary, Waqa Blake and Dean Whare also missing. Martin stood tall to help the Panthers to victory however, scoring what proved to be the match-winner and also assisting Dylan Edwards' opener.
Jarome Luai had a hand in both tries, while James Fisher-Harris and Mitch Kenny made 61 and 58 tackles, respectively.
Frank Winterstein inspired an enthusiastic start by the Panthers, making a number of strong runs and tackles that had the Sea Eagles reeling.
Manly recovered to set up camp in the red zone, but the Panthers repelled back-to-back sets on their own line.
Mitch Kenny almost marked his first NRL start with a try when he burrowed over in the 16th minute, but the Bunker ruled an obstruction by the ball-player.
A Dylan Edwards quick tap had the Sea Eagles backpedalling in the 20th minute, and after Manly gave away another penalty on their own line, James Maloney took the two to open the scoring.
Moments later, the Panthers bagged the first try when Jarome Luai turned it in for Liam Martin, who broke away and found Dylan Edwards in support. Maloney added the extras to make it 8-0 after 23 minutes.
Luai almost scored on himself in the 28th minute when he danced around and slipped away from the Manly defence, but he was cut down metres short of the line.
Brian To’o came even closer in the 35th minute, but the Sea Eagles’ last-ditch defence was again too good.
With just eight points to show for their first-half dominance, James Maloney struck a long-range field goal to nudge the Panthers further ahead at the break.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 9 – SEA EAGLES 0
Brian To’o came up with a big play in the 50th minute to end a period of Manly dominance, wrapping up Jorge Taufua on the last tackle, one-on-one.
To’o got caught high by Jack Gosiewski after the turnover, and a scuffle broke out. Both sides were reduced to twelve men, as Gosiewski and Jarome Luai were sin binned.
Neither side scored during their absence, but Tyrell Fuimaono was placed on report for an alleged shoulder charge.
After the Sea Eagles picked up the scraps of a Panthers error in the 61st minute, Taufua pinned his ears back. However, To’o was the Panthers’ saviour again, pulling down his opposite number in a try-saver.
The Panthers marched up the other end and made sure To’o’s efforts did not go to waste. Liam Martin was rewarded for his standout performance with a try, pouncing on a cheeky grubber by Luai that was fumbled by Brendan Elliot. Maloney piloted over the goal to stretch the margin to 15 points with as many minutes remaining.
The Sea Eagles pulled one back in the 70th minute when Cade Cust sliced through and linked up with Manase Fainu. The conversion by Reuben Garrick trimmed it back down to a nine-point margin.
Manly then set up a grandstand finish with three minutes to play when a desperate shift of hands culminated in Cust finishing off a long-range try in the corner. Garrick nailed the sideline conversion to make it 15-12 with 3 minutes to play.
The Sea Eagles resorted to bombs as they went looking for a late match-winner, but Josh Mansour and Isaah Yeo defused both kicks as the Panthers held on for their second-consecutive win.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 15 – SEA EAGLES 12