Two sides at opposite ends of the ladder met at Lottoland in Sydney for the opening round four fixture as top of the table Penrith Panthers travelled to take on a Manly Sea Eagles side who are winless so far this campaign, and shipping in a shed load points through a leaky defence.
The bookies were offering you a big win if you were brave enough to back the home side, but your investment in a Penrith win was hardly worthwhile as the watching Thursday night TV audience, and a stadium without crowd number restrictions for the first time since COVID, settled down for a one-sided affair.
Coach Ivan Cleary would have been delighted to welcome back star half-back and skipper Nathan Cleary to his side after he missed out last week, Dylan Edwards missed out as Stephen Crichton moved back to full-back.
It was all too easy for the Panthers. An early line break from Jarome Luai gave them position and two plays later fast hands saw a flip pass to Brian To’o to dive over in the corner for a simple try. Nathan Cleary was unable to add the touchline conversion, dragging his kick left of the uprights.
A delightful offload from James Fisher-Harris found the supporting Moses Leota to beat the last defender and ground the ball on eleven minutes. Cleary added the conversion for a 10-0 lead, it was all one-way traffic.
On sixteen the Panthers were in again as Viliame Kikau span out of the tackle after picking up a deflected grubber kick to go in from six metres. Cleary was on point again with the conversion, Penrith scoring at a point a minute.
On twenty-four an apparent Panthers mistake took a fortuitous bounce into the hands of To’o who stepped past the last defender and went over for his second of the night. Cleary curled his kick inside the far upright for 22-0.
Just after thirty minutes the Sea Eagles got their first points of the game when Cade Cust took a late offload from Sean Keppie, who’d drawn in four tacklers, to step through the broken defence to pinch one. Reuben Garrick added the conversion with six to play to the interval.
It was Manly who finished the game on the front foot, but they were unable to add to the total as the home side trailed by sixteen at the interval.
It was business as usual on forty-seven when Kikau crashed the Manly line from fifteen, swatting aside three tacklers before dropping to the ground and scoring by the left corner flag. Cleary failed for the second time with his kick from the touchline.
Matt Burton was gifted a walk through the Manly defenders to again go in on the left-hand side for the sixth Penrith try of the game. Cleary added the conversion for 32-6, the points were in the bag and it was now just a matter of the winning margin.
On sixty-eight Cleary collected his own grubber and broke for twenty before putting a kick to the left with Kurt Capewell dribbling the ball over the line and getting a hand on it to ground. Cleary kicked his fifth goal of the night for 38-6.
Penrith were through the forty on seventy-eight with Paul Momirovski taking a Cleary pass, hitting the ground under an incomplete tackle and stretching for the line to score, and when Cleary added the conversion, and a last second penalty goal after a pull back when he chased his own grubber, the final score was 46-6.
Paramatta Eels will need to win by 65 or more points against Wests Tigers on Monday to make it to the top of the pile on points difference, but Manly are in all sorts of trouble as they already start to consider whether they will end up with the wooden spoon. Penrith built the momentum early on and never looked back as the Sea Eagles had no response.
Manly Sea Eagles: Walker, Saab, Parker, Suli, Garrick (G), Foran, Cherry-Evans, Paseka, Croker, Taupau, Schuster, Boyle, Trbojevic. Subs: Gosiewski, Cust (T), Keppie, Aloiai.
Penrith Panthers: Crichton, Staines, Momirovski (T), Burton (T), To’o (2T), Luai, Cleary (7G), Leota (T), Kenny, Fisher-Harris, Kikau (2T), Capewell (T), Yeo. Subs: May, Leniu, Eisenhuth, Martin.
Referee: Matt Checcin.