Penrith ensured the race for the minor premiership will be decided on the final weekend of the regular season with a comprehensive 30-16 win on Sunday afternoon.
Melbourne’s shock loss to Parramatta on Saturday night opened the door for the Panthers to claim an unlikely minor premiership and Ivan Cleary’s side didn’t miss their mark.
Only points differential separates the leading premiership contenders. Craig Bellamy is set to rest the bulk of his stars despite the disappointing result and that makes what would have likely been a comfortable win against Cronulla in the first of two Friday night matches far less routine.
Bellamy now has a decision to make. Play his best possible side and ensure his team finish on top of the ladder or rest his stars and open the door for Penrith to claim an unlikely minor premiership.
If he chooses the latter, a Cronulla win would leave Penrith playing for back-to-back minor premierships when they face Parramatta in the second match at Cbus Super Stadium on Friday.
For the majority of the first half, Penrith, who were marked 30-point favourites by bookmakers, didn’t appear as though they would make the Storm earn top spot on the ladder next week.
Tevita Pangai jnr scores for Penrith.Credit:Getty
The Tigers were doing their best Bulldogs impression. Trent Barrett’s side gave the fans at Redcliffe something to cheer as they made Manly work for every point in the first match of the double-header.
Michael Maguire’s men reverted to type when an awful pass from Luke Brooks, as the Tigers tried to work out of their half, gifted Penrith field position late in the first half.
With nothing on, Tevita Pangai jnr powered straight through Jacob Liddle, Alex Seyfarth and Moses Mbye from 10 metres out to give Penrith a 12-6 half-time lead.
With the conversion, Nathan Cleary became the second youngest player to score 1000 first grade points.
Nathan Cleary became the second-youngest player to reach 1000 career points during Penrith’s win over the Tigers.Credit:Getty
The Pangai try sparked Penrith. They started to play like the side that blitzed the rest of the competition prior to Cleary’s Origin injury.
Only a miraculous David Nofoaluma try-saving tackle stopped Matt Burton from scoring a few minutes later.
When play resumed, Jarome Luai and Viliame Kikau threw a one-two punch to give the Panthers a 24-6 lead.
The Tigers rolled over, as they have done many times this season.
Late tries to Jake Simpkin and Ken Maumalo flattered the reality of the contest when the match was there to be won.
Maguire’s men will finish their disappointing season against the Bulldogs in the final match of the regular season. Barrett’s side are one of the few teams that have made the Tigers look like a competent team this season.
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