As a warm-up for a final against minor premiers Sydney Roosters, Manly's performance was poor. The silver lining, of course, is that the Sea Eagles will have an extra day to recover from their loss, in time for a date with the Roosters; a win would have given them a Friday night final against South Sydney.
Yet the performance of the Sea Eagles so close to the finals will be a concern to the side and their coach Geoff Toovey. If Friday night's encounter between the Roosters and the Rabbitohs had the intensity of heavy metal this was closer to a whale song. Credit should go to the Panthers, who were fired up for their own finale.
Plucky Panthers overrun ordinary Sea Eagles
Penrith finished their season in style after breaching fortress Brookvale to overpower Manly.
The Sea Eagles, of course, will hope to get some talent back in their squad for the final. But they were rather sluggish. The Brookvale farewells for Brent Kite - who is joining Penrith next season - and George Rose - fell distinctly flat, as Penrith's departing players Luke Walsh, Lachlan Coote, Clint Newton and Mose Masoe starred.
At times, the Sea Eagles looked good. They took a few minutes to get going but when they did they put some points on quickly. Daly Cherry-Evans' ninth-minute 40-20 put the Sea Eagles on the attack and they capitalised through debutant winger Clinton Gutherson, who scored with just his second touch in the NRL.
His first touch resulted in a slip as he made a kick-return, but he made no mistake after 10 minutes.
The Sea Eagles' second try came with Penrith on the attack. As the Panthers looked for the response, Luke Walsh's ball to centre Brad Tighe fell loose, allowing Manly's right winger David Williams to run 85 metres to score. By the 24th minute, the Sea Eagles were well in control after Cherry-Evans stepped his way through some poor defence to score.
But then the Sea Eagles took their foot off the pedal, and the Panthers did belatedly respond. Walsh grubbered for fullback Lachlan Coote, who then sent the ball back to the halfback for the try. Interchange hooker James Segarayo skipped through some flimsy goal-line defence and the Panthers were well in the contest at the half-time break.
Just three minutes after play resumed the Panthers had the lead. Winger Josh Mansour did superbly to score in the corner, and Walsh's conversion from touch suddenly had the Sea Eagles suddenly facing the Roosters next weekend.
After 54 minutes, some smart work down Manly's left side gave Matai a try, having worked a one-two with Gutherson. But the Panthers were in a resilient mood. Forward Clint Newton busted through the Manly defence close to the Sea Eagles' goal-line - after Rose had conceded a penalty following a shoulder charge on Sam McKendry - and Walsh extended the lead to a converted try with a penalty goal just 10 minutes remaining.
Manly hit back almost immediately through Williams' second in the 73rd minute. Lyon's sideline conversion levelled the scores. But it was the Panthers who lifted when it mattered most. Their second-last try was a beauty, full of desperate flair, ending with Walsh's kick wide for Dean Whare. Mose Masoe, who had ruffled some feathers early in an altercation with James Hasson - the latter appearing to drop his knee into the Panthers forward - had the last laugh, scoring the final try to rub it in.
The Sea Eagles still have next week to think of, but this is the wrong time to stumble.
PENRITH 38 (J Mansour M Masoe C Newton J Segeyaro L Walsh D Whare tries L Walsh 6 C Newton goals) bt MANLY 26 (D Williams 2 D Cherry-Evans C Gutherson S Matai tries J Lyon 3 goals) at Brookvale Oval. Referee: Adam Devcich, Phil Haines. Crowd: 12,090.