Penrith have eliminated the Sea Eagles in controversial circumstances at Allianz Stadium tonight, running out victors 22-10, with the win setting up another sudden death showdown with the Broncos in Brisbane next week.
The victory by Anthony Griffin's men was overshadowed by a controversial call from the Bunker, who awarded a decisive try to Panthers centre Tyrone Peachey in the 73rd minute. The Panthers centre collected a deflection close to the line off a Bryce Cartwright kick, which bounced off Daly Cherry-Evans and then off Peachey's arm before the ball landing in the in goal where Peachey dived over to score.
On field referee Gerard Sutton ruled a try and the Bunker had the Sea Eagles season in their hands, however the Bunker was unable to overturn the decision due to lack of evidence that Peachey had definitely knocked on and despite the protests of the Manly players the decision stood.
Bryce Cartwright then muscled his way over to score his second try of the match to cap off a remarkable game for the young forward, who has so far suffered a nightmare 2017 season, which has been ruined by injury and off field issues. Cartwright was instrumental in the Panthers win scoring a double and having a hand in Peachey's contentious late try.
For Manly it was a disappointing way to end the season, however it must be said, that the Maroon and Whites certainly had their fair share of chances to take the game away from the Panthers, with Akuila Uate failing to ground the ball cleanly in the 58th minute, followed by centre Brian Kelly, slipping over with the tryline at his mercy just ten minutes later with the game in the balance on both occasions.
Both sides came into this year's Finals Series having clashed in the last round of the regulation season, where the Sea Eagles took care of the Panthers convincingly 28-12 at Brookvale Oval. However, a week is a long time in Rugby League and both sides had very nervous starts, with NSW backrower and Manly's most consistent performer Jake Trbojevic losing the ball in just the second tackle of the match. Off the back of the next set, a Nathan Cleary grubber rebounded off Manly hooker Api Koroisau's legs and into the path of Martin Taupau who was penalised for being in an offside position. Cleary took the gift two points and it was a positive start for the Panthers.
That was until rookie five-eighth Tyrone May also felt the pressure of being in an Elimination Final when the young half dropped the ball off the kickoff. Thankfully for the Panthers, May's mistake did not cost his side. However only minutes later, fellow youngster Tom Trbojevic dropped a swirling Cleary bomb right in front of his own uprights and Manly were again under pressure.
The Panthers continued to pile the pressure on the Sea Eagles defensive but the resolve of the Sea Eagles proved too strong and they were rewarded when winger Matthew Wright picked up a loose ball and raced away, the Sea Eagles winger was dragged down by Bryce Cartwright, before the ball found its way to Tom Trbojevic, who calmly placed a pin point cross field kick onto the chest of Dylan Walker who scored the first try of the match. Walker let everybody know about it as well, making a bizarre b-line for the Panthers bench after the try and exchanging a few words.
Walker became enemy #1 where he left off last week, and next time he had the ball, the Panthers defence came from everywhere to get a piece of him. A scuffle ensued and Addin Fonua-Blake was penalised for sparking the melee giving the Panthers a piggy back up field.
Panthers half Cleary didn't need a second invitation, when he cleverly directed a kick on the last towards the posts, which rebounded off the goal post pad and into the path of Cartwright to score the first try for the visitors.
Penrith kept their momentum going on the stroke of halftime when back to back penalties, allowed Cleary to extend the lead by 10-4 after a bruising first half of semi final football.
Manly looked to have struck first in the second half, when five-eighth Blake Green kicked for the villainous Dylan Walker to get the Eagles back on level terms, however the Bunker ruled correctly that Walker was in front of the kicker and the Panthers were off the hook. The Sea Eagles then had their second try of the night denied by the Video Referee, when Uate grassed a golden chance with less than 20 minutes on the clock.
The Eagles finally got it right, when interchange forward Lewis Brown steamed onto a short ball from Green to score under the posts to lock up the scores at 10 all with just 18 minutes left on the clock.
It wasn't to be for the Sea Eagles though, with Peachey's late try, followed by Cartwright's match sealer, ending Manly's hopes of challenging for this year's title. Fulltime saw skipper Daly Cherry-Evans understandably remonstrating with the on-field referees about the controversial try, which was obviously a bitter way for his side to end their season.
Penrith came into the 2017 as equal premiership favourites with the Storm and now travel to Brisbane where they will fancy their chances against a hot and cold Broncos side, who will be sweating on the fitness of skipper and Australian fullback Darius Boyd as he races the clock from a hamstring injury.