The Manly Sea Eagles have pulled off a stunning upset with an 18-10 win over Penrith at Panthers Stadium.
In a match riddled with 29 errors, the Panthers alarmingly fumbled their way to a second consecutive defeat and a first home loss of 2018.
A small group of travelling Manly supporters were on hand to celebrate the club’s first win at the foot of the mountains since 2011. However, the win was slightly soured by a potentially serious knee injury to five-eighth Dylan Walker, who was returning from a broken jaw.
Here are five things we learned from this contest.
1. Errors and poor discipline frustrate coaches and fans alike
The third-placed Penrith Panthers came into the game clear favourites against the team in third last position, however, let themselves down badly with careless mistakes from the outset. The Panthers had several opportunities attacking Manly’s line early on but could only score through a James Maloney penalty goal. Manly second-rower Joel Thompson scored the first try after 10 minutes and while a quality flick pass by Sione Katoa set up Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to help Penrith to an 8-6 lead at halftime, the Panthers did not produce their typical strong second-half performance.
Lock James Fisher Harris dropped the ball on the first set of the second half and Manly made the Panthers pay with Tom Trbojevic’s cut out ball for Matthew Wright to score in the corner. This set the tone for the second half as both sides struggled to hold the ball.
Even with some decent periods possession, the Panthers could only manage one penalty goal in the second half, with halfback Nathan Cleary’s sin-binning for a professional foul Daly Cherry Evans allowing Manly to take the lead through a Trent Hodkinson penalty goal. Hodkinson soon backed up talented ball playing forward Jake Trbojevic to score what proved to be the match winning try after 69 minutes.
While the lowly ranked Manly side made 14 errors, the Panthers were even worse with 15 errors and made some really costly ones in crucial areas of the field.
2. Out of sorts Panthers struggling during rep season
The Panthers were looking to be genuine premiership contenders after their 28-2 defeat of St. George-Illawarra Dragons back in Round 12 but have produced error-ridden and disjointed displays since the representative season began. They were by their own admission lucky to win in Canberra by a 1 point margin and there are definitely concerns over their 32-6 loss to the Roosters and now an 18-10 home defeat to a Manly side they were expected to beat handsomely.
Penrith’s origin star trio of James Maloney, Nathan Cleary, and Tyrone Peachey all delivered underwhelming displays today. 20-year-old Cleary especially looks to be struggling for form backing up from playing for New South Wales. Despite the series victory for the Blues, the Cleary and Maloney halves partnership still hasn’t really clicked yet. Panthers fans would like to see Cleary run the ball more often but neither he nor Maloney impressed against the Sea Eagles.
However, the Panthers cannot use fatigue to key players as an excuse for the defeat with the Sea Eagles origin stars fullback Tom Trbojevic and lock Jake Trbojevic two of the better players on the field. The Manly fullback was very safe under the high ball and dangerous with his running and passing game setting up a try, while his brother Jake’s offload set up the winning try.
3. RCG already proving a huge loss for the Panthers
The Panthers forwards had been outstanding in their surge to the top of the ladder but they have been disappointing in the past two games.
The loss of New South Wales Origin prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard with a broken jaw was always likely to be a big blow to the Panthers considering his energetic runs and quick play the balls. The Panthers began the match without any intensity and their play the ball speed did not allow momentum for the halves and outside backs to play off.
Second Rower Isaah Yeo was the only Panther to run for over 100 metres. James Tamou was disappointing up front for Penrith, making just 67 metres even as starting prop. By contrast, the Sea Eagles props Martin Taupau and Addin Fonua Blake were excellent, making 148 and 122 metres, respectively. Taupau’s display was all the more impressive considering he was backing up from New Zealand’s test defeat to England in Denver. He made 16 runs and 6 tackle busts in his 36 minutes.
4. Sea Eagles a real danger despite a lowly position
Diehard Manly fans will hold out hope that their team can play finals football while they are still a mathematical chance. With just 5 wins and 11 losses, it’s likely they need to every game to make the top 8 and while unlikely, they have proved they are at least a nuisance side.
In 2018 the Sea Eagles have won 38-24 away in Brisbane, 24-4 in Melbourne and now 18-10 in Penrith. With talent like the Trbojevic brothers, Daly Cherry Evans and menacing forwards including Martin Taupau they are certainly not a team to take lightly, even with their wretched injury toll which grew worse at Penrith with Dylan Walker (knee) and Matthew Wright (shoulder) both forced from the field.
After the game, coach Trent Barrett was understandably proud of the Sea Eagles defence and attitude in a game few people gave them a chance of winning.
5. Tough draw and form slump puts pressure on Panthers in Top 4 race
Anthony Griffin’s men will be kicking themselves after this surprise loss at home as they have dropped to fourth position with several difficult games coming up.
The Panthers will be missing their New South Wales Origin representative stars next Friday night when they host the 5th placed Warriors who are unaffected by origin commitments. The following two rounds they host bogey side Cronulla Sharks and then a tough away trip to play the Brisbane Broncos.
Penrith’s injury toll continues to cause them problems, with explosive back rower Viliame Kikau in doubt for next week. He was assisted from the field today after the head of Sea Eagles rookie Manase Fainu collided with his right knee.
Now four points behind ladder leaders St. George-Illawarra, the Mountain Men need to lift across the park if they are to avoid sliding down the table.
What did you takeaway from Penrith's surprise loss at home to Manly? Let us know in the comments below.