Penrith is guaranteed a home qualifying final for the first time in a decade after taking its winning streak to 13 matches with a 20-2 victory over Parramatta at Panthers Stadium.
- Manly came from behind to beat the Bulldogs and snap a six-match losing streak
- The Sea Eagles still have an outside chance of making the finals but they will need other results to go their way
- The Bulldogs are facing the prospect of claiming the wooden spoon for only the third time in the club’s history
Jarome Luai again starred at five-eighth with a try and an assist to help the Panthers dispatch the only team to have beaten them this year.
In truth, had it not been for Parramatta’s grit and a lack of finishing from Penrith, the Panthers could have won by a more significant margin.
They had 57 tackles on Parramatta’s line to the Eels’ six at the other end, and blew at least five try-scoring opportunities in the first half before scoring their first on the break.
The result was soured with Panthers hooker Apisai Koroisau and bench forward Spencer Leniu both suffering concussions and neither returning.
But regardless, it wraps up a top-two finish and a game at Panthers Stadium in week one of the finals, with their following finals match also certain to be in Sydney.
The minor premiership also now looks a mere formality, with a win over either the struggling North Queensland or Canterbury in the final two rounds enough to wrap up top spot.
Realistically though, the match against the Eels was as much as they were likely to be pushed before the finals and they still controlled it in its entirety.
Their back three of Dylan Edwards, Josh Mansour and Brian To’o totalled almost 700 run metres combined to set up their field position, while James Fisher-Harris played 78 minutes straight up front.
They had a ridiculous 72 per cent of the ball in early stages and should have scored at least five tries in the opening 35 minutes of the match.
Mansour was denied one when Stephen Crichton was controversially ruled to have knocked the ball on, while the centre put another into touch with Mansour unmarked.
Luai was held up once when he put the ball down on Blake Ferguson’s leg, while To’o went within a fingernail of scoring himself.
Moses Leota was one of several players to drop the ball on the line.
But somehow the Eels were the first to score via a penalty goal.
Finally though, the pressure told when Mansour crossed on the half-time siren from a Luai cut-out ball on the siren.
Liam Martin then put the game in the bag when he leapt high to mark a Nathan Cleary kick and get it down in the 56th minute, before Luai crossed at full-time.
The result means the Eels could finish the round fourth, and there is every chance they will meet the Panthers again in week one of the finals.
Bulldogs stuck at bottom of ladder
Canterbury, winless since July, has surrendered a 10-point advantage in a 32-20 loss to Manly on Friday night to remain anchored to the bottom of the ladder with two rounds remaining.
Up against heavyweights South Sydney and Penrith in the closing two rounds, the Bulldogs’ seventh straight defeat leaves Steve Georgallis’s battlers with forlorn hopes of hauling themselves out of the cellar.
Including 2002, when stripped of 37 competition points for salary cap breaches, it looms as only the third wooden spoon for the once-proud and mighty Canterbury club in 56 years.
And the Bulldogs have only themselves to blame.
Facing a Manly outfit riding their own six-match losing streak, Canterbury led 10-0 on the half-hour mark courtesy of an early Matt Doorey try, Nick Meaney’s conversion and two penalty goals.
But the match soon turned in Manly’s favour, with interchange forward Taniela Paseka, Curtis Sironen, Brad Parker and Jack Gosiewski all scoring tries.
The four-try blitz in 13 minutes either side of half-time had Manly suddenly leading 22-10.
Halfback Lachie Lewis briefly raised hopes of a Bulldogs fightback with a try against the run of play in the 50th minute.
But tries Morgan Harper and Marty Taupau snuffed out the comeback to propel Manly into 10th spot on the ladder, four points adrift of eighth-placed Cronulla.
The Sea Eagles have the faintest of chances of playing finals football, as they need to win their remaining two matches against Gold Coast and the Warriors, and hope the Sharks record heavy defeats in their next three fixtures.