In their first home game in front of fans for 240+ days, the Penrith Panthers put down an early marker with a 28-6 success against Manly Sea Eagles tonight at Penrith Stadium.
The Panthers were welcomed back after their Premiership win with a comfortable 22-point win against the Sea Eagles which saw backup halfback Sean O'Sullivan star in the game in the stead of Nathan Cleary, who will miss the first three weeks of the season with an injury.
Penrith looked like they hadn't missed a step after the Premiership win. Their defense was ferocious and kept the Sea Eagles side hemmed in their own end for much of the first half and helped them take a six-point advantage into the break.
Third time was a charm for the Panthers when they scored through youngster Izack Tago dove over in the left corner for his second four-pointer in his career for a 6-nil lead. Prior to that, the Panthers were denied twice due to obstruction which chalked off efforts for Stephen Crichton and Brian To'o.
Crichton was everywhere in attack tonight. He added a penalty goal to stretch the Panthers to 8-nil before the centre strode over himself from a delightful pass from O'Sullivan to give the hosts a 12-6 lead at the break.
Manly were under the kosh for much of the first half but found some joy right near the break. It was the one time they found space through Kieran Foran and Tom Trbojevic which sent their new recruit Ethan Bullemor outpaced the defense to give them some spark going into the break.
The second half followed a similar script for the Panthers. They struck within five minutes of the second half whistle when five-eighth Jarome Luai found some space after the kick was caught from the Panthers attack to make the lead 18 points to six. Apisai Koroisau extended the lead with a burrowed effort from close range to give the Panthers a deserved homecoming after a long time.
It was a homecoming for Sean O'Sullivan as well who played his first game in Panthers colours since the SG Ball Grand Final. The former Broncos and Warriors halfback was the perfect stand-in for Cleary. He provided the last pass for three of the Panthers tries and lapped up the support back in his home colours.
For the Sea Eagles, it was another Round 1 loss which adds to their terrible record to open the season. Their star players were well handled against the Panthers defense and Trbojevic couldn't spark any attack in the second half. They now face another tough challenge in facing the perrenial contenders Sydney Roosters at the Sydney Cricket Ground next Friday night.