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NRL Match Review: Penrith Panthers 16 St George-Illawarra Dragons 4

Penrith Panthers have all but secured a spot in the 2014 National Rugby League finals series following a 16-4 victory over St George-Illawarra Dragons at WIN Stadium yesterday.

The game was won on the back of some extraordinary defense.  Ten minutes after half time with the Panthers ahead by eight, the Dragons were camped on our line for a good five minutes.  The Dragons were desperate to get back into the game as shifted play to the right, only for the final pass flying into touch and the play breaking down.  This period of the game was where Penrith laid the foundations for victory.

It was a frustrating afternoon for the home side.  Their only joy of the afternoon was off the back of a penalty where the Dragons were in good field position.  Gareth Widdop and Benji Marshall setting up play that ended up with Adam Quinlan finding a flying Brett Morris to cross in the corner.  It was sharp footy from the Dragons as they looked to continue their attack after a good effort against the Roosters a week earlier.

Immediately from the restart Penrith muscled up with Adam Docker pulling off a big hit on 150-game Dan Hunt.  This typified Docker’s game as he returned to the kind of form that had eluded him through a number of head knocks and other injury concerns over the past few months.

The Dragons could have gone further ahead on thirteen minutes but Will Smith’s determination to chase down Gerard Beale was impressive.

This put a dent in the Dragons confidence and shortly after Dan Hunt was reported for a high tackle on David Simmons.  The Panthers were quick to react and immediately posted points when they were down on the Dragons line.  James Segeyaro stretched over to score after the ball was kept alive by Jamie Soward, Matt Moylan’s inside ball to Dean Whare, passing to the number nine who got through a poor Hunt tackle under the posts.

Despite the six points to four scoreline at the break, Penrith weren’t without their chances.  Mike Cooper was on the end of a Docker special which almost resulted in Jamal Idris crossing next tackle.  Soward later in the set kicked at the posts for Moylan, only for the bounce to elude him.    The Dragons best attacking chance before the break was when Quinlan’s pass to Morris went over the touchline six minutes before the break.

Penrith jumped out of the blocks after half time.  An early penalty was followed up by the Dragons being forced into a goal line dropout.  From the following set, Docker crossed off a nice pass from Segeyaro out of dummy half.  The play caught out Leeson Ah Mau in defense.  Soward’s conversion gave Penrith an eight point lead.

The Dragons threw the kitchen sink at Penrith but the impact of Widdop and Marshall was minimal.  With their season on the line, these two quality halves couldn’t fire any shots at the Panthers line.  Their game deteriorated further with early tackle kicks being snuffed out by the Panthers.  Doesn’t that remind you of Luke Walsh at Penrith a couple of years back?  You get the feeling that the Dragons are at that point in time right now.

Matt Robinson’s try saving tackle on Benji Marshall on the hour again emphasised how much Penrith wanted to win the game.  Not long after the Dragons coughed up possession and then were penalised for a rare scrum penalty for pushing in the scrum before the ball was fed.  There was some push and shove as the Dragons frustration was starting to show.

When Jack DeBelin took out Moylan chasing a Soward kick through, Penrith were handed their first opportunity to attack since the Docker try.  Alas, the Panthers couldn’t convert but had the Dragons forcing to play out from their own line.

The nail was put in the Dragons season with ten minutes of play remaining.  Quinlan looked uncomfortable in passing to his left from a kick return as he tried to find Jason Nightingale.  The ball travelled forward and almost ended up with Smith who was set for his first National Rugby League try before fumbling the ball.  With the feed, Idris scored the winner just moments later as he trampled over the top of Marshall.  Penrith appeared home at sixteen points to four despite Soward missing the conversion.  Moylan missed one of the easiest field goal attempts under no pressure to extend the lead to thirteen.

Marshall had the last opportunity of the game to score for the Dragons but like for a good part of the afternoon, poor execution on the Panthers line saw the former Tiger knock the ball on.

Penrith’s thirteenth win of the season not only secured a finals spot for the first time since 2010, but kept them in third place just behind the Rabbitohs and Sea Eagles.  Segeyaro was again close to the best player on field causing plenty of headaches for the Dragons defense.  Soward was excellent against his old club and his efforts are helping Smith settle into the top grade.  Docker returned to good form, and Sam McKendry again lifted his game to put in a great effort.

The Dragons now face the impossible, having to win their last four games against Canberra, Gold Coast, Brisbane and Newcastle.  Their problem will be the -67 points difference with only Parramatta at -68 with a worse off differential in the ten teams sitting above them on the premiership ladder.  Ben Creagh put in a good effort for the first part of the game.  Coach Paul McGregor may lament starting Trent Merrin from the bench.  Merrin is quality and should be starting from kickoff.

PENRITH PANTHERS 16 (James Segeyaro, Adam Docker, Jamal Idris tries; Jamie Soward 2 goals) defeated ST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONS 4 (Brett Morris try)

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FINALS BOUND

Penrith are pretty much confirmed to return to the National Rugby League finals series after a four year absence.

This will also be the tenth time the club will play finals footy in September.

Here’s the Panthers previous finals campaigns:

1985

Remember these names – Greg Alexander, Royce Simmons, Brad Izzard?  They were the big names who lifted Penrith into their first finals series after a dramatic 10-7 win over Manly in the playoff on September 3 1985.  A guy called Brett Lobb scored the Panthers only try.  Their campaign ended as soon as it started, thumped by Parramatta 6-38 just four days later. Penrith won 13, lost 10 with one draw to qualify for the finals.

1989

Penrith almost made the finals in 1988 but were beaten by the Tigers in a play-off.  Under Ron Willey with the likes of Peter Mortimer and Peter Kelly at the club, Penrith ran second.  This was the year the great Brad Fittler made his debut for the club.  Penrith record breaking sixteen wins was to no avail as the Tigers and Raiders knocked them out in back to back weeks of the finals.

1990 

With fifteen wins, Penrith ran third and on a dramatic Sunday afternoon, September 9 (also this writer’s 13th birthday at the time) made the Grand Final for the first time ever.  Phil Gould’s men missed out on premiership glory as Mal Meninga’s led Canberra won the Grand Final 14-18.

1991

Seventeen wins and four losses saw Penrith take out the minor premiership for the first time.  A win over North Sydney in the major semi final set up a rematch with Canberra two weeks later.  September 22 ended the Panthers twenty-five year drought as Royce Simmons inspired the team to a 19-12 victory.  A great way for the Panther legend to retire from the game.

1997 Super League

A troubled six years of the club saw limited success until Super League came around in 1997.  Penrith ran fifth with a nine win, nine loss record.  They upstaged Canterbury at Belmore in week one, before Canberra proved too good a week later at Canberra Stadium 12-32.

2000

Fifteen wins and eleven losses saw Penrith qualify fifth for the final.  Their season lifted by six consecutive wins mid-season under the guidance of Royce Simmons.  Losses to Canberra and Parramatta saw the Panthers exit early from the finals series.

2003

Given no hope of making the finals, let alone the Grand Final after three losses from the opening four matches, Penrith defied the odds not only to pick up their second minor Premiership but to upstage the Brad Fittler led Sydney Roosters on Grand Final day. Local junior Luke Rooney scoring a double on a wet night at Stadium Australia as the club ended a twelve year wait to lift the Premiership Trophy with 18-12 win.  Trent Waterhouse was a star born, plucked from A Grade park footy twelve months earlier.  Luke Lewis, Luke Swain and Joel Clinton made a name for themselves during the season as Penrith went back to their local nursery in climbing to the top of the rugby league world with a premiership win.  And who can forget Presto, Priddo and Gird’s contribution to the win!

2004

Penrith as defending premiers did a fantastic job to run fourth with fifteen wins and nine losses.  Plenty of clubs were out to knock off the Panthers during the season, but Penrith strung at times two or four wins together to ensure they’d play finals footy for a second consecutive season.  A wonderful win 31-30 over the Dragons in week one gave them a week’s break before eventual Premiers Canterbury Bulldogs took out the contest 30-14 in the Qualifying Grand Final.  A match that Joel Clinton went into obscurity after being belted by Sonny Bill Williams during the contest.

2010

Wooden spooners in 2007, the departure of popular coach John Lang for Matt Elliott resulted in poor results for the Panthers.  Elliott’s only success in 2010 saw the club run second with fifteen wins and nine losses.  A narrow loss to Canberra at home was followed by a brain explosion by Elliott to play Adrian Purtell in the second row, and a 12-34 loss ended the Panthers season.

2014

A new culture and right player selection under the leadership of Phil Gould and head coach Ivan Cleary has seen the club exceed expectations as they sit in third place with thirteen wins and seven losses.  Cleary having coached Penrith now on sixty-eight occasions for thirty two wins, and thirty six losses.  This story and their destination will be written over the coming months.

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