PENRITH Panthers fans were hoping that their team's trip to Bathurst's Carrington Park to face the Manly Sea Eagles on Saturday wasn't going to disrupt their perfect start to the season.
They may have suffered a late scare but the fans got the result they wanted.
The Panthers notched up their eighth win on the trot to start the 2021 NRL competition, finding a 28-16 win over the Sea Eagles and snapping a two-game losing run at the Bathurst venue.
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said it wasn't the flashiest performance from his team but he admired the way they forged a path ahead after a sluggish start to the second half.
"I wasn't happy with the way we came out of the sheds. I thought we lacked a bit of energy and intent. Manly were the opposite and, rightly so, they got on top. But we made some big stops in that period which were really good," he said.
"The first half I was reasonably happy with. To Manly's credit they never went away. They've got good enough players to make things happen and that's exactly what they did."
Cleary said he feels the atmosphere at Bathurst is becoming better and better with each Panthers game that comes to Carrington Park.
"We consider Bathurst and the Central West to be part of our community now. It's great to see so many Panthers fans. The feel around here now is that it's becoming Panthers territory," he said.
"Obviously we've got a few guys from the wider community out here too. We're coming out to play at Dubbo soon as well so that's going to be really good."
Manly drew first blood in the clash when an offside penalty against Apisai Koroisau allowed Reuben Garrick to kick a penalty goal in the fifth minute.
The Panthers' response was both swift and stylish.
On the very first Panthers play after the Manly try, winger Brian To'o shrugged off a defender to put Matt Burton into space, who in turn produced a pinpoint kick back to the centre of the ground to give Dylan Edwards the opening try of the game.
To'o had a try of his own on the next set when a cut out ball from Jarome Luai put him in the clear and gave Panthers an early 10-0 lead.
The Sea Eagles were required to fight hard deep in their own territory through the middle stages of the opening half, bringing the Panthers into touch on two occasions just inches from the try line.
Those efforts were rewarded in the 26th minute when fullback Tom Trbojevic pounced on a poor pass from the Panthers' James Fischer-Harris to run 40m and score Manly's first try.
But the Panthers' momentum wasn't going to be stopped that easily as a clever short ball from Nathan Cleary put Liam Martin in for a try.
The conversion put Panthers up 16-6 eight minutes before half-time, which is where the scores would stay at the break.
A little bit of luck would help the Sea Eagles cut the margin back to four as a Daly Cherry-Evans grubber bounced off the upright padding, into teammate Trbojevic and then back into the kicker's hands for a try.
Tyrone May scored a converted try against the run of play for the Panthers in the 58th minute to help them breathe a little easier at 22-12 after a challenging period of repeat defensive sets.
Sea Eagles ensured the game would go down to a grandstand finish when Jason Saab sprinted down the right wing out of his own half to score a try, but the missed two-point attempt kept the margin at a converted try.
But a stunning Stephen Crichton try would end Manly's winning chances.
Manly were left ball watching on a deep grubber and Martin put his body on the line to bat the ball back in play into the arms of waiting teammate Crichton.
Manly were a much improved side compared to their 46-6 thrashing against the Panthers earlier this season, bolstered by a healthier squad, but Des Hasler said his side still should have done better at Bathurst.
"We let them down the field a bit too easily and they're a very good side. We had to come off our own line a little bit and when they do that to you they certainly have the ability to create points," he said.
"The second half I was particuarly pleased by the fact we held in there and fought back. We got back within reach of them but we made some fundamental errors that you just can't afford to make against a side like Penrith.
"You can give field position away to a team that's playing as well as Penrith are at the moment."
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