Penrith will stay in the race for the minor premiership if it beats the Wests Tigers in Redcliffe, while Manly claims a top-four spot after taking down Canterbury 36-18.
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Panthers vs Tigers
Sea Eagles made to work for top-four berth
A hat-trick by Tom Trbojevic has fired Manly into the NRL top four via a 36-18 win over a battling Canterbury at Redcliffe.
The superstar fullback’s heroics on his return from a cheek issue overshadowed a clunky Sea Eagles display as the last-placed Bulldogs showed unexpected resolve at Dolphin Stadium.
A suspected ACL injury to youngster Matt Doorey added pain to the Bulldogs’ frustration, with the 21-year-old limping off just before half-time as the Bulldogs slumped to their 10th straight loss.
The win sends Manly above Parramatta and the Sydney Roosters and means fourth place will be theirs if they can beat North Queensland in the final round of the home-and-away season next weekend.
The arm wrestle that evolved looked highly unlikely when Jason Saab crossed for his 21st try of the season in just the ninth minute.
Trent Barrett’s team clearly had not read the script, however, and their performance was rewarded with back-to-back tries on the half-hour mark to Doorey and Jayden Okunbor, which put the Bulldogs up by eight points.
Daly Cherry-Evans, who provided the try assist for Saab’s opener, turned provider in the 34th minute to get the Sea Eagles within two points, putting Haumole Olakau’atu into a massive gap for the backrower to charge over next to the posts.
While Canterbury ended the half completing 18 of 18 sets in an error-free display, the loss of Doorey in the dying minutes was a demoralising setback.
The Sea Eagles got themselves back in the lead when Trbojevic scored his 20th try of the season just after half-time.
Replays suggested Trbojevic had lost the ball under pressure from Jack Hetherington but the four-pointer was awarded to the Sea Eagles, who became the first team in premiership history to have three players score 20 or more tries in a single season.
Tensions boiled over moments later when Josh Aloiai caught Josh Jackson with a stray boot as he kicked out to shake off tacklers, players coming from all parts of the ground for a mid-pitch scuffle before Aloiai was placed on report and sent to the sin-bin.
The Bulldogs were unable to make the extra man advantage count, however, and when Joe Stimson was placed on report for a dangerous tackle on Martin Tapau, Reuben Garrick’s penalty extended the Sea Eagles’ lead to six points.
Trbojevic completed his fourth hat-trick of the season to secure the points for Des Hasler’s team.
Following Trbojevic’s third try, the Bulldogs hit back when the Sea Eagles allowed the kick-off to bounce and Jackson Topine ran onto the loose ball to score, but Saab’s second off an intercept in the dying seconds gave Manly the last laugh.
Canterbury will have one last chance to end their losing run when they face Wests Tigers next weekend.