The Penrith Panthers are ramping up their preparations for the finals campaign overcoming a slow start with a comprehensive 68-12 mauling of the North Sydney Bears in a performance that will remind the rest of the competition just why they are the short-priced favourites to take out this year’s competition when they play close to 80 mins of football.
The Panthers welcomed back from injury Sam Anderson & Ben Murdoch-Masila along with the return of Kevin Kingston who has now fully qualified for the finals to overcome the promotion of Tim Grant & Matt Robinson to the NRL side. The Bears were given a boost with the inclusion of mercurial Rabbitohs winger Nathan Merritt but lost hard working prop Nathaniel Neale.
Penrith got off to yet another flying start scoring at the end of their first set of six when a Luke Capewell cross field was taken by Eddie Aiono before flicking it out to Wes Naiqama to score in the right corner to give them a 4 nil lead.
The Bears on the back of some Penrith errors soon took control of the game taking a shock 12-4 after 15 minutes through tries to hooker Matt Hyland & back rower Chris Grevsmuhl both form close range. The Panthers were sparked into action & from the 23rd minute proceeded to score 64 points in just 57 minutes to really put the cleaners through a Bears side that has more than just a hand on the wooden spoon for 2014.
A Tom Humble short pass put Ryan Simpkins into a gap on halfway before finding Luke Capewell backing to score the first of his three tries for the afternoon. In the lead up to the try Ryan Simpkins was concussed & had to be taken from the field joining Wes Naiqama who only moments earlier made his way up the tunnel with what was later suspected to be a compound fracture of the finger.
Penrith regained the lead after 29 minutes when Daniel Foster & Vaipuna Tia Kilifi combined from 20m out to put Capewell in for his second try & with Humble’s conversion led 16-12.
Back to back tries for the Panthers – to Tom Eisenhuth in the 34th minute before a wonderful worked left side raid from long range saw Eto Nabuli streak away before offloading back inside to Kevin Naiqama & on to Kieran Moss to score in the 36th minute & send the Panthers into the sheds at half time leading 28-12.
Penrith quickly started where they left off in the first half when Kevin Naiqama made a break only to be denied a try when Merritt stripped the centre one-on-one just when a try seemed on the cards. It was a temporary setback for the Panthers who proceeded to score three tries from their next four sets to blow the game out to 44-12 & it seemed to be a matter of not who but by how much would they win by, courtesy of tries to Leilani Latu also making a welcome return from a long term ankle injury, Capewell & Nabuli. Capewell’s try was a feature which started on halfway when Latu shifted the ball out left before Nathan Smith, running wide on a good line, found Kevin Naiqama steaming into a gap before that man Capewell backed up to complete his hat-trick.
The Panthers hit 50 points for the first time in 2014 with 15 minutes remaining when Kevin Naiqama like a thief in the night stole the ball in a one-on-one tackle from Joe Uluibau to go 30m to score under the posts & proceeded to score another two tries in the next two consecutive sets to hit 62 points with ten minutes remaining with tries to Nathan Smith off a Tom Eisenhuth grubber & Nabuli’s second try, set up by a Ben Murdoch-Masila burst from halfway.
The Panthers weren’t done with yet & notched up 68 points when Ben Murdoch-Masila went from being try provider to try scorer courtesy of a Nabuli line break from 40m out before offloading back inside to the back rower to score near the posts. Nabuli took over the kicking duties from Humble who had a day out with the boot converting 9 from 10 & despite slipping over, still managed to dink the kick for his first NSW Cup goal.
The Panthers now enjoy the bye next weekend before returning with two remaining games against sides looking to force their way into the top 4 – Mounties & Wentworthville Magpies.
Penrith 68 (Luke Capewell 3, Eto Nabuli 2, Wes Naiqama, Tom Eisenhuth, Kieran Moss, Leilani Latu, Kevin Naiqama, Nathan Smith, Ben Murdoch-Masila tries; Tom Humble 9/10 Eto Nabuli 1/1, Wes Naiqama 0/1 goals) at Sportingbet Stadium.