The Panthers reaffirmed their status as the team in this year’s NSW Cup with a gutsy performance against arch-rivals, Cronulla winning 22-14 in Bathurst today. The Panthers overcame the loss of two props Sam Anderson & Tim Grant before kick-off & played a significant portion of the game without props Ben Murdoch-Masila & Anthony Cherrington.
The Sharks came into this game looking for win number 4 in a row while the Panthers were looking to getting their season back on track after last week’s horror loss to the Newtown Jets surrendering a 24 point lead with 20 minutes to go.
The game featured 23 players with NRL experience including the late inclusions of Young Tonumaipea & Tupou Sopoaga for the Sharks while Luke Capewell was brought into the halves forcing a back-line reshuffle that also saw Wes Naiqama to move into the back row as cover for Murdoch-Masila who started in the front row.
The Panthers got off to great start scoring after just 6 minutes as Eto Nabuli scored in the left corner from close range after a sweeping backline movement from the scrum win inside the Sharks 20m involving David Simmons (making a welcome return from injury) and Kieran Moss. Naiqama kicking into a southerly gale missed the conversion attempt but the Panthers were playing from in front leading 4-0.
The Panthers extended that lead to 10-0 in the 26th minute when they went down the blindside attacking Cronulla’s right fringe when Capewell went to the line provided a terrific short pass to put Matt Robinson into the clear who in turn found Kevin Kingston backing up on his inside to score next to the posts.
The Sharks responded in the 31st minute when a penalty invited Cronulla to go on the attack deep inside Penrith’s half before Ben Hampton’s cut out pass found an unmarked Kurt Mann to score the try out wide left. Holdsworth’s conversion hit the post to leave Penrith leading 10-4.
Penrith had the opportunity to extend the lead before going into half time when Will Smith intercepted a Holdsworth grubber & streaked 60m downfield allowing the Panthers to attack deep inside the Sharks half but a Humble grubber into the in-goal on the last was unable to be regathered by a flying Waqa Blake.
The Panthers got off to the perfect start again in the second half earning two repeat sets on the back of some kick options from Humble & Simmons paved the way for Penrith to extend their lead when a Capewell cross field kick evaded everyone & allowed Will Smith to swoop on the loose ball in-goal to score. Will Smith failed to convert his own try but the Panthers held a handy 14-4 lead.
The Sharks weren’t to be out done though & scored two back to back tries to level the scores after 56 minutes. The first try came on the back of a penalty when a slick movement right from Holdsworth allowed Nathan Gardner to wrap around before putting in Josh Portlock out wide from close range. From the next set, The Sharks again attacked Penrith’s left edge on halfway with Holdsworth linking with Portlock who in turn put Justin O’Neill away down the right touch line before finding Gardner backing up in support to score next to the posts.
The Panthers were down to just 15 fit players & the Sharks were starting to gain the upper ascendency in the middle stages of the second half. The Sharks looked set to take the lead through Jake Goodwin but Matt Robinson denied the back rower who seemed certain to score just inches shot of the try line a magnificent last ditch tackle.
A lucky call where the ref ruled that an errant Sharks pass that went into touch on halfway was a Penrith scrum feed despite replays suggesting Will Smith may have played at the ball. The deadlock was broken in the next set when a dangerous tackle on Vaipuna Tia Kilifi 30m out allowed Will Smith to convert the penalty goal.
The final five minutes saw some frantic play & desperate defence from both sides. Tom Humble appeared set to break through the Cronulla left edge before losing the ball allowing the Sharks to turn defence into attack before Gardner was crunched in some desperate defence from the Panthers as he looked set to give the Sharks the telling try & lost possession.
Minutes later it was Nabuli who came up with some magnificent defence to drive O’Neill into touch just as the Cronulla winger looked set to streak clear down the touch line. The Panthers took advantage of the scrum win to score on the last play of the match Capewell combined to put Naiqama on a sweeping run around Mann to score in the right corner & duly converted from the sideline by Will Smith to secure a gutsy win for an undermanned Panthers outfit.
The Panthers now return home to play the first of two consecutive home games when they take on Manly next Saturday at 3pm.
Penrith 22 (Eto Nabuli, Kevin Kingston, Will Smith, Wes Naiqama tries; Will Smith 3 goals) d. Cronulla 14 (Kurt Mann, Josh Portlock, Nathan Gardner tries; Daniel Holdsworth 1 goal) at Carrington Park. Penalties: Cronulla 9-4. Half-time: Penrith 10-4. Goal-kickers: Will Smith (Penrith) 3 from 4 Wes Naiqama (Penrith) 0 from 1 Daniel Holdsworth (Cronulla) 1 from 3.