The Panthers took a huge step towards their third minor premiership in four years with a 24-12 win over the Sea Eagles on Thursday night.
The defending champs are riding a seven-game winning streak as they head into games against the Titans, Eels and Cowboys to round out another dominant season.
After a Josh Schuster intercept had threatened to give Manly the perfect start it was Stephen Crichton returning the favour in the eighth minute when he snaffled a Daly Cherry-Evans pass and raced 70 metres to grab the game's opening try.
A pinpoint kick from Cherry-Evans from 30 metres out earned Manly a repeat set in the 19th minute and Toafofoa Sipley crashed over from close range to level the scores at 6-6.
The Sea Eagles took the lead in the 27th minute when Cherry-Evans ran the ball on the last tackle and put Reuben Garrick into a hole from close range to make it 12-6 with the fullback's conversion.
Stephen Crichton try 7th minute
Panthers skipper Isaah Yeo's ball-playing skills put Moses Leota into a gap withing sight of the Manly goal line with five minutes to play in the half but the prop put the pass down and the opportunity was lost.
Three minutes later the Panthers had their second when the ball was kept alive off a bomb and a grubber and found its way to the left edge where Crichton dived over for his second of the night. Cleary converted from touch to make it 12-12 at the break.
In the space of two minutes to open the second half the Sea Eagles had Ben Trbojevic and Brad Parker sent for head injury assessments and Dean Matterson placed on report for a high shot.
Toafofoa Sipley try 18th minute
The Panthers extended their lead in the 47th minute when Edwards and Crichton combined to send Sunia Turuva on a long run to the line after Garrick had bizarrely kicked the ball back to the premiers after receiving it on his own 20-metre line from a Cleary kick.
A penalty against Jake Trbojevic for a dangerous tackle in the 52nd minute handed Cleary a chance to add two more points and the Panthers led 20-12.
Come the 64th minute and the Panthers had a fourth when Isaah Yeo, Edwards and Zac Hosking combined on the right to put Brian To'o over in the corner.
From there the Panthers did enough to close out a 24-12 victory - their 16th win of the season and eighth in a row against Manly.
With Cleary in total control and the outside backs all making huge metres the Panthers always had the game under control despite Manly throwing the ball around and asking plenty of questions.
Match: Sea Eagles v Panthers
Round 24 -
Venue: 4 Pines Park, Sydney
- Manly back-rower Ben Trbojevic was sent for a HIA in the 41st minute.
- Sea Eagles bench forward Dean Matterson was placed on report in the 41st minute for a high tackle on Liam Martin.
- Sea Eagles centre Brad Parker left the field for a HIA in the 42nd minute and was deemed a Category 1 concussion and could not return.
- Panthers centre Stephen Crichton ran for 163 metres and had four tackle breaks to go with two tries.
Vaega puts on a shot
- Panthers hooker Luke Sommerton made his NRL debut.
- Sea Eagles back-rower Haumole Olakau'atu made 172 metres from 15 runs and had five tackle breaks.
- Panthers winger Brian To’o has scored seven tries in his past five games.
- Manly's 18th Man Jake Arthur entered the game with 10 minutes to play. He was activated after Trbojevic and Parker had been ruled out with head knocks.
- The Sea Eagles have not beaten the Panthers at 4 Pines Park since Round 26, 2017.
Stephen Crichton try 37th minute
Play of the Game
Sunia Turuva's runaway try early in the second half gave the Panthers the momentum to power on to yet another victory. Fullback Dylan Edwards fielded the ball inside his own half and quickly shifted it to Stephen Crichton who found his winger in support. Turuva showed great speed and footwork to get through the gap and raced 60 metres to grab his eighth try of the season. Turuva finished the night with 256 run metres and seven tackle breaks.
Sunia Turuva try 45th minute
What they Said
"I thought Manly really came to play, they moved the ball a lot, they asked a lot of questions and they played pretty freely. We had a lot to consider throughout that first half. We were thinking properly tonight. Respect to Manly, they played well. I think in the second half some of their expansive plays we were able to build a bit of pressure defensively and they came up with a couple of errors and we capitalised and got more possession and field position and ended up getting away with a win. I was really happy with tonight, it wasn't our most polished performance by a long shot but in terms of stopping a team that was really desperate and really threw a lot at us it was a good result." - Panthers coach Ivan Cleary
Panthers: Round 24
"It was a plan [the kicking duel], we couldn't just come here and try and arm wrestle them. We spoke about returning serve during the week and we practiced it at training, just one or two guys missed their job there defensively, otherwise we're making the tackle down there on Dylan Edwards and we would have been on top of them. We had to think outside the box because we were missing quite a few troops and we lost another two in the first four minutes of the second half, so I was proud of the guys, they showed a lot of courage. We were hard to beat tonight and that's all the Manly supporters can ask, we were hard to beat. [Our game plan] worked for 40 or 50 minutes. The way we attacked against them disrupted them, the way we defended against them disrupted them. But we weren't good enough to do it for the full 80 minutes." - Sea Eagles coach Anthony Seibold
Sea Eagles: Round 24
The Sea Eagles look set to be without Brad Parker and Ben Trbojevic when they travel to Auckland for a clash with the Warriors in Round 25 while the Panthers are away to the Titans at Cbus Super Stadium.