A surge of three tries in three consecutive plays straight after half time proved to being the difference as Penrith hung on despite being down to just 14 available players midway thru the second half to win a tough & often spiteful encounter against a Wyong side down on class but not on spirit, to win 32-24 at Sportingbet Stadium this afternoon. The win is a season best 6th in a row for the Panthers who have cemented their place at the top of the NSW Cup ladder having now won 10 from their last 11 starts.
The Panthers were forced into making a late change with Fijian international prop, Reagan Campbell-Gillard ruled out (shoulder) & replaced by Anthony Cherrington. Wyong made several positional changes most noticeably a new halves pairing of Jono Ford & Mark Kheirallah, while Shaune Corrigan’s withdrawal forced a reshuffle with ex-North Sydney Bear, Chris Centrone coming into fullback & Grant Nelson shifting out to the wing. Fijian prop Eloni Vunakece’s inclusion at lock saw Bennett Leslie shift out to the centres with ex Panther Daniel Penese going back to the bench.
The Panthers got off to a dream start, capitalising on an early glut of possession to open the scoring in the 4th minute before Wyong had any use of the ball at all. Kierran Moseley went straight thru some feeble Wyong marker defence from 30m out before finding backrower Matt Robinson to score out wide. Wes Naiqama nailed the conversion from near the left touchline to give Penrith a 6-0 lead.
The Panthers domination of possession continued & they extended the lead soon after in the 13th minute when a well worked wrap around play between Tom Humble & Kieran Moss inside the Wyong 20m, allowed the fullback to take advantage of the overlap created to provide a cut-out pass to his winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to score in the right corner. Wes Naiqama narrowly missed the conversion to leave Penrith 10-0 in front.
Wyong to their credit worked their way into the game & were able to draw level after 25 minutes after scoring two quick tries. The first came when ex-Panther Tekina Veilea stormed onto a short pass from Mitch Williams to score on Penrith’s left edge from close range before Bennett Leslie was able to come up with a try from a similar play.
Wyong were benefitting from the turn in possession flow which was starting to favour the Roos but just when it looked likely the Roos were going to hit the lead, a Jay Florimo kick through close to the Panthers line when perhaps going thru the hands to score a try in the left corner, found Moss who was able to go 95m to score against the run of play to give Penrith a fortuitous 14-10 lead.
Penrith were able to extend their lead to 6 points on the stroke of half time after Wyong conceded a penalty 20m out & Will Smith took over the kicking duties to nail the penalty goal.
A Mark O’Meley error inside his own half in the first set of the second half was the catalyst for Penrith to score 3 tries in as many sets. Eto Nabuli scored his first try for the afternoon after a sweeping play inside the Roos’ 20m zone out to Wyong’s right edge allowed Kevin Naiqama to call his winger back inside to score next to the posts. From the next set, a long range line break from Kevin Naiqama allowed the Panthers to go on the attack once more & a few plays later Nabuli had a double when another shift out to the left saw a great offload from Robinson & a freakish pass through the legs from that man, Kevin Naiqama, allowed his unmarked winger to score from close range. The Panthers had their 3rd try after a Nathan Smith grubber to the right corner was brilliantly taken by Dallin Watene-Zelezniak inches inside the in-goal touchline despite the attention of his opposite number in defence to open up what seemed to be a comfortable 32-10 for the Panthers after Will Smith nailed the conversion from the touchline.
The Panthers as they have often done throughout the season invited Wyong back into the game through ill-discipline. The weight of possession Wyong begun to enjoy eventually took its toll in the 61st minute when play went two passes left before Jono Ford reached out to score a soft try from close range. The next set saw Ford make a long range line break before play shifted out to the right where Dale Clacherty was able to score in the right corner from close range to reduce to the gap to 14 points.
As well as a lack of possession, the Panthers started to suffer some key injuries which forced the likes of Nabuli (knee), Moss (concussion) & Nathan Smith (upper back) out of the game in quick succession as Wyong turned up the heat in defence. Eventually this took its toll on the Panthers with Brock Molan going through some tiring Panthers defence around the middle before going on a 25m run to score next to the posts. The Kheirallah conversion reducing the margin to 32-24.
The Panthers dodged a bullet moments later when Wyong on the attack just when another try looked likely, when former Panther Daniel Penese lost possession close to Penrith’s try line. The game ended on a spiteful note when Jay Florimo made a formal complaint to the referee alleging an eye gouge from Dallin Watene-Zelezniak & was placed on report. In the ensuing set, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak reported a bite to the referee who promptly put Veilea on the report for the incident after the full time siren had sounded.
Coach Garth Brennan would not have been pleased with the way the game finished despite the 32-24 win especially with his team putting themselves under pressure in defence with a 5-0 second half penalty count that allowed Wyong to get back into the game on the back of having twice as many sets as Penrith in the second half – 22-11.
Next Saturday, the Panthers are back again at SportingBet Stadium for the re-match with the Illawarra Cutters as part of a three game schedule. The Cutters will be keen to atone for their late 1 point loss to the Panthers last Sunday week on their home soil.
Penrith Panthers 32 (Tries: E Nabuli 2, D Watene-Zelezniak 2, M Robinson, K Moss; Goals: W Naiqama 1/3 W Smith 3/4) def. Wyong Roos 24 (Tries: T Veilea, B Leslie, J Ford, D Clacherty, B Molan; Goals: M Kheirallah 2/5) at Sportingbet Stadium.