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Round 20 NRL Review: Penrith Panthers 16 Cronulla Sharks 18

Penrith have suffered back to back defeats for the first time in the 2014 National Rugby League competition with a shock 18-16 loss to Cronulla at Carrington Park in Bathurst.

This game saw the return of Peter Wallace for the Panthers.  Wallace left the game early to receive an injection of his injured leg but returned to play out the game.  There will be questions raised as to whether Wallace returned too early from injury.

It was the Sharks Andrew Fifita that inspired his team to victory.  He put Sam Tagaetese away for the winner with twenty-two minutes remaining.  At the time it was a twelve point turnaround.  Penrith were awarded six again after a fumble by Michael Gordon in front of his try line.  The last tackle play broke down when Jeff Robson made a last ditch tackle on Jamal Idris.  Cronulla then went up field and scored the match winner.

Not through lack of trying, Penrith couldn’t grab the winner.  Matt Moylan created a break down the right hand side.  The attacking raid ending when Kevin Naiqama brushed the touchline with three minutes remaining as he desperately tried to pass back infield after being tackled by Jacob Gagan.

Cronulla dominated the first ten minutes of play with 85% possession.  Robson’s cross field kick was grabbed by Gagan who scored the opening try of the game, leaping in front of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak in contesting the ball.

Once Penrith started to get more of the ball the game quickly changed.  Moylan went close to scoring, only to be denied by Gordon’s try saving tackle.  But it was Watene-Zelezniak who scored after seventeen minutes from a slick back line move that involved Moylan and Dean Whare.  Idris was held up four minutes later as Cronulla’s defense held firm.

Gordon extended the Sharks lead receiving a tap back from Wade Graham following another cross field kick by Robson.  The Sharks were in four minutes later with Gagan scoring his double. Gordon was involved in the lead-up as he went straight through the Panthers defense.  A golden period for the former Panther.  However his kicking was off-line and Cronulla only led by ten points.

With seven minutes until half time Naiqama scored, a direct result of Gordon’s fumble at the back.  Isaah Yeo and Moylan combining to put the Fijian flyer away.  The Panthers would trail fourteen points to ten going into half time.  It could have been worse if it wasn’t for Naiqama’s efforts to hold up Johnathan Wright over the line.

First tackle after the half time break Watene-Zelezniak was upended in a lifting tackle by Tim Robinson and Matt Prior.  The officials penalised the Sharks but amazingly neither of these players were placed on report.  This coming a week after celebrating #RiseForAlex round where Alex McKinnon’s career was ended by a lifting tackle.

Penrith enjoyed the same possession that Cronulla did in the early stages of the first half.  At the fifty-first minute Dean Whare drew the Panthers level after constant pressure applied at the Sharks line.  Soward’s conversion put the Panthers ahead for the only time in the game.  Sam McKendry was starting to warm into the game, having the same impact as Fifita had for the Sharks.  It was a brief period which almost resulted in further points.  But it was Tagaetese’s try that put the Shark’s ahead in the contest and subsequently victors in a tight match.  

In the last fifteen minutes Penrith were forced to defend their line for back to back sets.  At one stage Whare was unfairly judged to be offside at marker after Graham was slow to react to the play the ball at dummy half.  If Penrith could take a positive out of the game, it was the ability to force Cronulla to work hard for points at the back end of the game.  Cronulla were just as eager to make sure they held the Panthers out.

Fifita was by far the best player on field.  It was his offloads and strength that tore the Panthers apart on the right hand side of defense.  Prior, Gordon and Robson were pivotal in the Sharks recording their fifth win of the year.  It was an afternoon where Luke Lewis played for the first time against his old club after moving to the Shire at the end of 2012.  He, Gordon and Graham continue to enjoy success against their former club.

Moylan was heavily involved in attack and safe at the back in a losing side.  But once again Elijah Taylor was outstanding in his work rate.  He made fifty-seven tackles and tried to lift the team in the closing stages by carting up the ball and looking for an offload.

A loss for Penrith puts their top four chances in danger as many ‘experts’ see the club as pretenders.  Fans have taken to social media labeling the loss as unacceptable considering both team’s position on the table.  The positive can be the loss by Sydney Roosters at Newcastle that will mean Penrith can only finish as low as fourth at the end of this round.  Manly has their fair share of internal problems.  All of this makes the fight for finals positions interesting over the final six rounds.

CRONULLA SHARKS 18 (Jacob Gagan 2, Michael Gordon, Sam Tagataese tries; Michael Gordon goal) defeated PENRITH PANTHER 16 (Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Kevin Naiqama, Dean Whare tries; Jamie Soward 2 goals). Attendance: 8,824


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