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In what has turned out to be a gripping contest between two improving sides, the Penrith Panthers have snuck home in sensational circumstances to win 30-29 over the Manly Sea-Eagles.
After a scrappy start which saw penalties being traded between the two teams, Penrith took control of the game through weight of possession and ball control. Joe Galuvao scored a good try set up by Luke Priddis. At the 20th minute Luke Lewis went over for the home team after a charge down by Manly ended up in the hands of Brett Howland, who darted 50 metres down the ground. Lewis scored from the ensuing tackle to take the score to 12-2 after Campbell converted.
Eight minutes later the Panthers were at it again with Priddis going himself this time and taking the lead to 18-2. The home side looked very much in control and went into the sheds with the score unchanged.
It was obvious that Peter Sharp said some effective words at half time, with Manly upping the tempo in the second stanza, drawing level with the Panthers at 18-all through tries to Haumono, Torrens and Ferris. They took the lead in the 57th minute after the video referee made a very questionable decision by awarding a try to John Hopoate which certainly brought new meaning to the application of “benefit” when there's any doubt.
The enigmatic Rhys Wesser then chalked up his 11th try of the year thanks to some Campbell magic down the short side. With the scores locked at 24-all, any hopes of a golden point coming into play were dashed by Manly halfback Jason Ferris, who cleverly slotted a one-pointer through the posts to take the lead with 10 minutes remaining.
These next 10 minutes were quite amazing with desperation creeping into both camps culminating in a determined Rhys Wesser crashing over for his second try of the night in the 73rd minute. The game looked to be all over at this point, before Manly forced a goal-line drop-out on the home side. Scott Sattler sent a towering kick down about 40 metres only to have the first tackle broken and an offload to a flying Ben MacDougall resulted in a classic sideline try with enough suspense to rival an Agatha Christie novel.
As Ben Walker placed the ball about three inches in from touch for the conversion after the full time siren, a silence came over the crowd, who knew their team's fate rested with league's most difficult assignment. Rarely is a player placed in such a pressured situation, but Walker seemed to relish the chance to redeem his side and stepped up with full confidence, only to miss to the left with a good attempt.
League Unlimited player of the year awards:
By The Clock:
Saturday 3 May 2003 5:30 PM Penrith Football Stadium
Referee: Sean Hampstead
PANTHERS 30 Tries: Galuvao, Lewis, Priddis, Wesser 2 Goals: Campbell 5/6
SEA EAGLES 29 Tries: Haumono, Torrens, Ferris, Hopoate, MacDougall Goals: Walker 4/6 Field goals: Ferris 1
Ben Ross out for the Panthers. Kevin McGuinness out for the Eagles.
3 min: Ben Walker kicks a goal for Manly from a penalty. Manly lead 2-0.
5 min: Penalty to Penrith in the play the ball area. Preston Campbell lines up the kick and equals the scoreline at 2-all.
12 min: A jinking break from Campbell results in a near try from Rhys Wesser. Video referee adjudicates no try due to a knock-on, the scoreline remains 2-all. 20m tap to the Eagles.
16 min: Luke Priddis puts Joe Galuvao into a gap and the barnstorming second-rower scores the games' first try. Penrith Lead 6-2.
18 min: Campbell misses a kick he should have landed. Score remains Penrith 6 Manly 2.
20 min: Luke Lewis goes in for the Panthers after some great lead-up work from Brett Howland following a charge down. Panthers 10-2.
21 min: Campbell converts to take the lead to 12-2.
28 min: Priddis scores 10m to the left of the posts after backing up on the inside. Panthers lead 16-2.
29 min: Campbell adds the extras. Penrith 18 Manly 2.
31 min: Anthony Watmough goes over but denied a try by the video referee after interference from John Hopoate.
Penrith take an 18-2 lead into the break. Penrith have been very solid in defence but the quality of the game has been down. Both teams have missed opportunities and Manly have little or no direction, hence they haven't scored a try. The Panthers should go on and win, but the Eagles have a lot to play for and should make a contest of the second half at the very least.
43 min: Solomon Haumono picks up the scraps of a cross-field kick and goes in for Manly's first try, after the video referee clear it. Penrith lead 18-6.
44 min: Walker makes no mistake. Penrith 18-8.
48 min: Albert Torrens bursts over out wide. Manly back in the game at 18-12 down.
49 min: Walker misses a hard one. Penrith lead 18-12.
55 min: Jason Ferris goes himself from short range and gets the Eagles well and truly back in the contest. Penrith 18-16.
56 min: Walker converts to level the scores at 18-all.
57 min: Hopoate dives on the ball deep in the in-goal. Video referee awards the try in dubious circumstances. Manly now lead 22-18.
58 min: Walker kicks a beauty from the sideline. Manly 24 Penrith 18. Manly on the charge.
65 min: Wesser scores under the posts after a great break from Campbell. His 11th for the year. Manly lead 24-22.
66 min: Campbell kicks a simple conversion. Scores tied up at 24-all.
70 min: Ferris pots a field goal from a difficult position to take Manly to the lead at 25-24.
73 min: Wesser backs up again for his 12th try of the year from close range. Penrith lead 28-25.
74 min: Campbell makes no mistake. Penrith 30 Manly 25.
79 min: After a drop-out restart, Ben MacDougall has scored a sensational try in the corner. Penrith 30 Manly 29.
80 min: Walker misses a game-winning conversion from the sideline. Penrith win a great game of Rugby League infront of a huge crowd at their home ground. Plenty of Mountain people will go home happy tonight.