Monday 22 January 2018 / 05:37 AM


Week one of the 2017 finals series delivered another absolute belter, with Penrith prevailing 22-10 over Manly courtesy of two late tries after an absorbing, tempestuous encounter.

The Sea Eagles responded to an early Panthers penalty goal with a magnificent team try, Matthew Wright’s long break setting a platform before Tom Trbojevic put a kick onto Dylan Walker’s chest for the first try.

But the Panthers, buffeted in the media throughout the lead-up over the Matt Moylan situation, took a 10-4 lead into halftime after Bryce Cartwright scored next to the posts and Nathan Cleary slotted another penalty goal.

The tide gradually turned in the second half, and after dipping out on several opportunities, Manly levelled the scoreboard through Lewis Brown just before the hour mark.

A desperation-soaked final quarter swung on a goal-line dropout conceded by the Sea Eagles, after which Tyrone Peachey scored the decisive – and highly-contentious – try with seven minutes left. Cartwright iced the win with his second try in the dying seconds.

Penrith Panthers 22 (Bryce Cartwright 2, Tyrone Peachey tries; Nathan Cleary 5 goals) defeated Manly Sea Eagles 10 (Dylan Walker, Lewis Brown tries; Matthew Wright goal) at Allianz Stadium.

Manly left to chew on rotten Peach

Has there ever been an uglier, less-deserving try to decide a finals match? It was certainly the most controversial finals try of recent years (Cowboys losses not included), with the video referee unable to find evidence to overturn the on-field decision after a kick ricocheted off Tryone Peachey’s bicep and knee before the Penrith centre dotted down.

It was impossible to tell whether his hand had or hadn’t touched it – and it was hard to blame the Bunker for coming up with the call they did – but it would have been equally easy for Gerard Sutton to send it up as no try.

And nothing against the Panthers for riding their luck – they deserved the win in the end – but it was a cruel way for Manly to bow out, and particularly tough after having a hairline calls go against Dylan Walker and Akuila Uate earlier in the second half.

Spite night

There was plenty of ill feeling when these clubs clashed at Lottoland in a vital Round 26 clash, and with far more at stake the verbal barbs and push-and-shove spilled over into one of the fieriest finals in recent memory.

Dylan Walker was again at the forefront, letting the Panthers know all about after finishing off some Tom Trbojevic brilliance to score the first try.

There were fewer flashpoints as the clocked ticked down, but it was never bubbling too far away from the surface – and it was great theatre.

Panthers’ D aims up

Penrith’s defence was sieve-like in the 28-12 drubbing at the hands of Manly one week earlier, but outstanding commitment without the ball underpinned the Panthers’ passage through to week two.

The mountain men still came up with plenty of misses – 41 to the Sea Eagles’ 36 – but they scrambled for each other and thwarted a welter of Manly raids, particularly in a second half that saw them under the pump for lengthy periods.

Bryce is back

There’s no sugar-coating it – Bryce Cartwright’s 2017 has been a shocker on and off the field. But the ball-playing back-rower saved easily his best performance of the season to date for the big stage, scoring a double and producing the kick that led to Peachey’s contentious match-winner.

The one-time Origin contender was highly involved in attack but played with impressive control (though seven missed tackles highlighted again his major deficiency) and the X-factor he provides will be crucial to the Panthers’ chances next week in Brisbane.

Penrith’s penalty piggy-back

The Sea Eagles were hammered 7-3 in the first half penalty count – most of them conceded deep inside their own territory. The Panthers took full toll, landed penalty goals at the start and the end of the half, and posting their first try through Cartwright after receiving yet another repeat set.

The penalty momentum reversed in the second stanza with Manly on the good side of a 4-1 count, but the Panthers were able to absorb the pressure they brought upon themselves.

Oh, Aku…

Finals football has a brutal way of exposing players at the enigmatic end of the scale, and Akuila Uate had a couple of lamentable moments in the second half.

The veteran winger flubbed a tryscoring chance when he failed to ground a Daly Cherry-Evans kick, while he butchered a routine pick-up of a Panthers kick with two minutes to go, robbing the Sea Eagles of one last chance to force the match into extra-time.

It’s been a great renaissance for Aku in 2017, but his frailties came to the fore when it mattered most tonight.

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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