The Penrith Panthers have held on for a gritty 16-8 victory over the Manly Sea Eagles after being kept tryless in the second half at Pepper Stadium.
Two penalty goals from Nathan Cleary cancelled out a four-pointer to Tom Trbojevic in the second period after a lacklustre performance from both outfits compounded with a lopsided 14-4 penalty count in favour of the home side.
It was an important win for the Anthony Griffin's men on the back of a 28-point thrashing to the Rabbitohs last start, with the victory keeping the side in the race for a top eight spot at the end of the season.
Penrith were gifted opportunities to attack on the back of a 9-2 penalty count in the opening half, however they lacked the polish at the backend of the sets to take full advantage until a late try to Dallin Watene-Zelezniak delivered an eight-point lead at the break.
With all the talk of a fired up Daly Cherry-Evans throughout the week, the former Australian international showed signs of class but was well maintained particularly at the backend of the contest.
Dylan Walker coughed up the ball in the opening set of the game that allowed the Panthers an early chance to attack with James Tamou showing strength to reach out and plant the ball on the line in the third minute.
The Sea Eagles forced back-to-back sets through Cherry-Evans and halves partner Blake Green to get the visitors on the board eight minutes later.
After being snubbed by the Maroons for the Origin decider, Cherry-Evans put Walker into a hole for the former NSW centre to bust past Tyrone Peachey for a four-pointer.
The Sea Eagles were guilty of coming up with errors in their half to continue to mount pressure on themselves and were starved of the ball in attack in the early stages.
Penrith struck on the stroke of half-time when Cleary provided the accurate cross-field kick for Watene-Zelezniak to come down with the ball – after stealing it out of teammate Waqa Blake's hands.
For all the possession and momentum Griffin's side had built in the first stanza was undone early in the second half as Cherry-Evans orchestrated a try to help send Tom Trbojevic over via a Shaun Lane offload.
Manly were on the attack shortly after before Watene-Zelezniak scooped up a loose kick to race 70 metres up field. Some clever play from interchange hooker Sione Katoa earned a penalty with Cleary slotting the penalty goal from in front.
Both sides were denied tries by the Bunker with Walker ruled offside from a Cherry-Evans kick, before Panthers forward Corey Harawira-Naera fumbled the ball in the lead up to Watene-Zelezniak crossing for a potential second.
Sea Eagles centre Brian Kelly shrugged off a knee injury as the Panthers continued to pepper the defensive line.
The penalty count in the second half got worse for the visitors with Darcy Lussick pinned for being offside that allowed Cleary to add another penalty goal to put the lead beyond a converted try.
Costly errors continue to hurt the visitors as tensions began to spill over between both sides to round the game out at the death.
Penrith Panthers 16 (Tamou, Watene-Zelezniak tries; Cleary 4 goals) defeated Sea Eagles 8 (Walker, Trbojevic tries) at Pepper Stadium. Half time: Panthers 12-4. Crowd: 14,625.
NRL.com's unofficial votes: 3 points: James Tamou. 2 points: Dally Cherry-Evans. 1 point: Trent Merrin.