NRL Competition leaders Manly went down tonight at the hands of a determined and gutsy Penrith Panthers outfit at CUA Stadium.

The Panthers; who started on the backfoot after conceeding an early try (55 seconds) – battled Manly and referee Steve Clark all night; winning dispite all odds and a penalty count of 14-5 in favour of Manly.

Peter Wallace. How good is he? The Panthers should setup a tent outside his house and not leave until he signs a multi-year contract. Wayne Bennett is on the money to be chasing the Penrith young gun. Tonight, Wallace was everywhere – he ran the attack plays for his team, produced sublime kicks and defended stoutly even with Watmough running at him all night.

Wallace’s quality game is assisting team mate Craig Gower; who is under much less pressure with the young player maker at his side.

The game swung both ways early, with Penrith and Manly going try for try. Manly through piercing forward runs; Watmough and G. Stewart proving a nightmare for the Penrith line. Apart from the Tony Puletua try for Penrith, where he scored from a penalty tap and swatted 3 defenders to score all himself, the Penrith attack was stunning – with deep, sweeping backline movements – putting Youngquest in for two early tries that looked identical.

Penrith gained the confidence they have been craving and controlled possession until half time. Early in the second period, Penrith got on the board again and looked to be cruising. Then Steve ‘Terminator’ Clark stepped in. Clark blew penalty after penalty against the Panthers, and at one stage allowed Manly to play out 4 sets of 6 back to back. Full credit to Penrith who remained headstrong, even after some poor calls from Clark and his officials.

Manly suffered from frustration as their stack of possession wasn’t converted, with the Panthers somehow scrambling to defend – set after set.

Looking at Manly, they are really missing Travis Burns. Lyon is no doubt a solid player with sound defence and constructive attack – but the former centre is not a ball player or organiser and Manly should think twice before discarding Travis Burns to the Titans or Cowboys.

Monaghan was quiet tonight, and Orford had a mixed bag – with strong early kicking, but some poor, careless errors in the backend.

Watmough was again the standout for the Sea Eagles. This guy must be in the NSW Origin side, he is almost impossible to tackle, at one stage carrying both Puletua brothers on his back for 5 metres. Brett Steward was contained well by the Panthers, as was Hicks and Robertson out wide. Steve Bell managed to find some room tonight, and in my eyes – it’s the best Bell’s looked in 2007, he was speedy and slippery in attack, shrugging plenty of tackles off a la his Storm days.

While Penrith’s Peter Wallace was a stand out for man of the match, he had good help from Panthers veteran Tony Puletua, Michael Jennings who was busy all night and the livewire Paul Aiton. When Paul Aiton moves to dummy half for the Panthers they are simply a different team, they are faster, and so much more constructive through the extra room. Priddis continues to play a ‘slow motion’ game, which at times is smart – but not every play. I tried hard to look for positives in Priddis’ game, but things were compounded with a brain snap late in the game, with the Panthers clinging to their 6 point lead, Priddis kicked dead in goal with an open Gower waiting for the field goal.

The Panthers savour their 2 points and could be back into contention with only a handful of wins, due to the fact that the cellar dwellers and only 4 points adrift from the top 8.

Manly dust themselves off and will be better for the experience tonight, it may be the slap in the face they needed to kick on with their impressive season. Hey Des, just don’t forget Travis Burns, the guy is a genuine match winner and is worth keeping on the roster!

By ricky

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