In a scrappy affair that looked more like park football at times, both the Panthers and Sea Eagles continued to make basic errors in wet, windy conditions on the Northern Beaches.
Neither side was prepared to play a simple game and the persistent expansive passing made for a stop start affair in the horrible conditions. Adding to the painful exhibition was a tonne of penalites from referee Ben Cummins who at times provided conflicting instructions to his pocket referee.
Despite the distractions, there was some footy played and while Manly had small patches of brilliance very early in the first half they could only manage 6 early points through an opportunist Chris Bailey try. The new pivot bullocking over from short range.
To their credit, the Panthers scrambled well in defence. There were a few times they looked shot, but they were able to pull off a last ditch tackle or force the ball loose when Manly loomed near the line.
With Wade Graham on the bench for Penrith, it wasn’t long before coach Matt Elliott hooked starting half Jarrod Sammut and replaced him with Graham. Sammut had an unhappy start, with some basic errors and poor decisions at times.
The injection of Graham saw an immediate improvement in Penrith. While they weren’t immediately in the points – Graham provided stability and crisp, selective passing that suddenly gave his team some thrust.
Prior to Graham coming on they looked flat footed and devoid of ideas in the attacking zone.
For Manly, it’s hard to tell whats wrong. They were at Fortress Brooky on a Monday Night and it doesn’t get any better for a home side. Maybe they took the Panthers too lightly, as at times they were guilty of trying to play too fancy – which cost them valuable possession.
While Penrith were still ill-disciplined at the ruck, giving away a truckload of penalties – the Manly side were lucky not to have received the same treatment. Several times the Manly players held, swung and wrestled on the ground – Adam Cuthbertson in particular, but they seemed to escape the wrath of referee Ben Cummins more than the Penrith side.
When Manly got a roll on, their quick play the ball speeds allowed them to give Jamie Lyon and Michael Bani space, but the play was falling down at the final hurdle. When the Sea Eagles lost Lyon to a knee injury mid-way through the first half, the raids soon dried up and it was left to Chris Bailey to forge any attack.
While Orford put in some deft little kicks, Bailey who got a double for the night – was the only player who looked like finding the line. His second try, coming off a deep passing movement to the right was a classic Manly play that they do for Brett Stewart. The runner angling away at speed to slide over.
At 6-0 at half time, both coaches were frustrated but when the heavens opened up just after the break – it was always going to be a slugfest.
It took Penrith near 60 minutes to score their first points, but it was worth the wait. Frank Pritchard hitting the hole hard off a superb Wade Graham selective pass and offloading well to Lachlan Coote who trailed well and fell over the line.
The confidence injection for the Panthers didn’t last long, with Frank Puletua spilling the ball from the restart set and immediately putting the heat back on his side.
You wanted the cameras to pan to Matt Elliott so his reaction could be seen, the poor guy must surely by now have an irregular heart beat after matches that push his patience to the limit.
Fortunately for Penrith, Manly just weren’t up to it. They went through the next period only completing 2 from 10 sets of six. Putting their own coach through hell, and lip readers could easily see that Dessie Hasler was spitting out every expletive known to man.
As both sides traded errors, it went from bad to extremely scrappy. Obviously the first side to tuck the ball under the arm and play safety first would win.
It was possession and field position that got Penrith over for their second, replacement hooker Masada Iosefa doing his best ‘Darren Senter’ impersonation, literally dropping over the try line from dummy half as the Sea Eagles had no one there to stop him.
With Michael Gordon nailing the conversion and the score now 12-6 to the Panthers, it looked like it was game set and match.
But we should know by now, that when watching Penrith – take nothing for granted. They starting getting the jitters and when Manly got a sniff they raced down field and setup for a late attacking raid.
With the Sea Eagles rolling with lightning speed, Penrith simply couldn’t get numbers back. Manly worked it well, playing the numbers as they spun it wide through Orford and eventually to Bailey who hit the hole and slid over untouched.
Kicking from his less preferred side, with rain streaming down – Orford’s conversion from out wide was always a long shot. He did miss, but at 12-10 the Panthers were still shaky – Manly were too again throw more attack at them.
The last 5 minutes saw the game come to life, Manly throwing it around at will as they played catchup footy and Penrith surprisingly seemed reluctant to play safe – even while they were leading, with such a little way to go.
The Sea Eagles going within a whisker again as Bani was held up over the line. With the clock ticking down, Penrith refused to kill the ball and decided to attack yet again. They offloaded several times to send Wade Graham over to score – only for the play to be called back for a forward pass.
Referee Ben Cummins making another mistake, missing the touch from Michael Bani that knocked the ball forward. It should have been play on the Penrith, but it didn’t effect the result – the away side pulling off a massive upset, albeit ugly as hell.
So after Round 3, the Premiers remain equal last on the ladder – they face another desperate side next week, as they travel to Newcastle to clash with the Knights.
The Panthers host the in-form Wests Tigers at Penrith Park.