Penrith's pre-finals freefall has been arrested in the most utterly Panthers fashion possible, with four tries in seven minutes completing a record 28-24 comeback victory over Manly on their own turf.
With 13 minutes to play Penrith were staring down the barrel of a fifth loss in six games, and a likely eighth-placed finish by the end of the weekend, having sat atop the ladder just two months at the start of the Origin period.
The Sea Eagles led 24-6 thanks to a second-half Brian Kelly blitzkrieg before the Panthers pyrotechnics started - with no side in rugby league history overcoming an 18-point deficit with so little time remaining on the clock.
Josh Mansour helped himself first after 67 minutes, flying over in the corner from a Waqa Blake offload, before Manly's flimsy right edge defence couldn't stop Isaah Yeo from reaching the line with defenders hanging on.
Still trailing by eight but with the mother of all wet sails, Viliame Kikau busted through down the left edge once more, offloading for Nathan Cleary and then Blake to race away.
When Kikau once more found himself in the thick of it, forcing the ball free from Tom Trbojevic as he returned a kick, Cleary found himself in under the posts and Penrith in for the most remarkable of leads late in the piece.
For well over an hour of the contest, Penrith's 51 missed tackles and 8 errors were deserving of a side battling to avoid the wooden spoon, Manly's own commitment to the cause a stark improvement on last week's thrashing from the Roosters.
Match: Sea Eagles v Panthers
Round 20 -
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
With yet another loss at Lottoland – their sixth straight on home turf now their second-worst in history – the Sea Eagles sit just two points ahead of last-placed Parramatta and somehow have to pick themselves up from the most heartbreaking of defeats.
When Kelly fired into gear after the break, Manly looked home and hosed.
A hard fought 8-6 halftime lead soon blew out as the Ballina product sent Daly Cherry-Evans in under the posts before crossing himself soon after from a Trbojevic short ball.
When he dotted down from another Trbojevic grubber that left new Penrith fullback Tyrone Peachey blushing, Manly led 24-6 and the Panthers obituaries were being finished in the press box.
But with Manly defending in the same manner and this Panthers side more than accustomed to a fast finish, the Sea Eagles faithful that booed their side from Lottoland last week were left devastated once more.
News & notes: Assistant referee Gavin Badger was forced from the field by a calf injury with 10 minutes remaining, handing NSW InTrust Super Premiership whistleblower Todd Smith his first grade debut... Manly's loss at Lottoland was their sixth on the trot – their second worst streak behind the eight straight lost across 2003-04 ... Despite their contrasting seasons, the Sea Eagles have scored 61 tries, just one behind Penrith's 62 this year... Next week Manly travel to the other end of town to face Cronulla while Penrith host the Raiders at the foot of the mountains... Crowd: 6134.