- Sea Eagles in box seat for minor premiership after thriller
- Time not on Panthers' side as Sea Eagles sneak home
Manly have pulled off a stunning come-from-behind escape in a drama-filled finale against Penrith on Sunday to put one hand on the NRL minor premiership.
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The Manly Sea Eagles fought back to grab two competition points in the final minute from the luckless Penrith Panthers.
In a result that leaves them two points clear on top of the premiership ladder ahead of a final round visit to North Queensland, Geoff Toovey's side trailed by 16 points midway through the second half but charged home to win by a point with a try inside the final 70 seconds.
The match winner was scored by lock Tom Symonds, his second try of the game, and laid on by captain Jamie Lyon with a tap down of a Kieran Foran bomb. In a mixed performance, Lyon had earlier thrown two intercept passes but bounced back superbly to lay on two tries and score one himself to give the Brookvale Oval crowd of 18,654 the dream finish.
There was controversy in the aftermath with Penrith captain Jamie Soward complaining the on-field clock had not been stopped as Lyon lined up the conversion of the Symonds try, telling referee Matt Cecchin the situation was "disgraceful".
Nothing could ruin the occasion for Manly's veteran prop Jason King, who in his farewell to the ground caught the Lyon tap down at the death, forwarded the ball on to Peta Hiku and then Symonds scored in the right corner.
A leg injury to hooker Matt Ballin, a knee injury to Jamie Buhrer and the reporting of Steve Matai for a shoulder charge are cause for concern, but after two defeats in their previous three matches this could be just the outing Manly needed approaching the semi-finals.
Playing with adventure, the Panthers skipped to a 16-6 lead at half-time, seizing on a lop-sided early penalty count in their favour and a series of errant passes by the hosts. The whistle would turn emphatically in the Sea Eagles' direction – after conceding the first four penalties, Manly were awarded the next six – but Penrith were able to make effective used of their time with the ball.
In an all front-row production, Nigel Plum scored only the seventh try of his decade-long career, crashing over in the fifth minute to open the scoring thanks to smart passes by engine-room colleagues Sam McKendry and first-gamer Kieran Moseley.
Winger Josh Mansour extended the Panthers' advantage only seven minutes later, capitalising on the quick passing of Matt Moylan and Dean Whare, and when Jamal Idris later scooped up an ill-judged ball from Lyon close the Sea Eagles line there was never going to be any stopping him.
In between, only lock Buhrer could find his way over for Manly, and Toovey was given further cause for concern when centre Matai, in his 200th NRL appearance, was placed on report for a shoulder charge on Penrith winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
Soon after the break the officials were again busy, booking Penrith's Adam Docker for a lifting tackle on King, but that was quickly forgotten as another Lyon pass gone wrong was seized on by Soward. Lyon set off in pursuit, but he could not reel in the opportunistic Panthers halfback who sprinted 80 metres to score under the sticks.
Up by 16 points but with 35 minutes left on the clock, Soward kept celebrations in check.
It was a wise move. Manly, spurred on by a boisterous northern beaches crowd on the last day of winter, looked dangerous whenever they could hold onto the ball and reduced the deficit only 10 minutes later when Lyon, with a delightful pass this time rather than a dud, sent second-rower Symonds in for a try despite the not significant resistance of Idris.
Brett Stewart, who had made a brilliant try-saving tackle on Watene-Zelezniak in the first half, but had otherwise been quiet, then announced himself on the game emphatically, bolting clear to set up interchange forward James Hasson under the posts.
A Moylan field goal, engineered by the vision of Soward, edged a tiring Penrith clear by seven, but Stewart ensured a nervous finish when he sent Lyon over in the corner with three minutes left.
Symonds then applied the finishing touch with only one minute and eight seconds to go.