A depleted Penrith Panthers outfit both before & during the game pulled out a gutsy 18-12 in rain-sodden conditions against Top 8 aspirants Mounties despite the late inclusion of former Australian & NSW five eighth Terry Campese at Leichhardt Oval. The win leaves the Panthers needing just a win in the final round against another top 4 hopeful, Wentworthville Magpies at home next Saturday to eclipse Cronulla’s 2013 points tally of 43 competition points.
The Panthers already missing the likes of Tim Grant, Matt Robinson, Ben Murdoch-Masila & Kevin Kingston as the injury toll reaches epic proportions in the NRL squad before kickoff defended stoutly despite just 45% possession for the game & injuries striking the likes of Sam Anderson, Ryan Simpkins, Tom Eisenhuth, Pat Hollis during the game as youngsters such as Pat Hollis, Mitch Clark, Josh Tangitau stood tall.
The Mounties started brightly enough when former Panther Mosese Pangai burst down the left edge but an attempted offload 10m out went astray & was cleaned up by Penrith. Penrith steadied the ship & opened the scoring in the 14th minute when play shifted across the field to the left 20m out before Vaipuna Tia Kilifi made half a break before finding Luke Capewell backing up inside to score out wide. Wes Naiqama converted to give the Panthers a 6-0 lead.
Kevin Naiqama made the break down the left just minutes later but desperate Mounties cover defence held him up over the line. The Panthers doubled their lead in the 24th minute after a right side raid from Wes Naiqama allowed a quick play the ball where his wing partner Tom Eisenhuth dummied & dived over from dummy half to score out wide right with Naiqama again nailing the difficult conversion.
Penrith were dominating the scoreboard but Mounties were beginning to win possession & territorial advantage on the back of several penalties, including one penalty that saw Sam Anderson & Nathan Smith placed on report for a dangerous throw. Several promising raids inside the Penrith 20m zone however mounted for little as resilient Penrith defence pressured the Mounties ball carriers into errors at key moments.
An error from Tom Humble on his own 20m line allowed Mounties to open their account on the stroke of half time when another former Panther Shane Shackleton barged over from close range to score next to the posts courtesy of a neat short pass from Reece Goldsmith at dummy half. Campese added the extras to half the gap to 12-6 at halftime with Mounties appearing to be gaining ascendency.
The second half saw Penrith suffer injuries to Sam Anderson, Ryan Simpkins who were forced out of the game before Pat Hollis was concussed in the opening minutes. To make matters worse Vaipuna Tia Kilifi was taken from the field suffering a nasty head gash which required stitches. Mounties attempted to seize upon the opportunities afforded to them but time & time again Penrith bravely defended their line, aided by further poor handling by Mounties.
The Panthers began to work their way back into the game midway thru the 2nd half & some strong defence on Mounties’ try line forced an error from Adam Tangata with Leilani Latu on hand to regather the loose ball in the in-goal to extend the lead back out to 12 points.
Mounties to their credit didn’t give up & their big forwards packed rolled through a tiring Penrith defensive line but were unable to land the blow required to get back into the match through several more handling errors as the game went on.
Penrith with three players forced out of the game were soon down another player when Kieran Moss was badly concussed & required to be assisted from the field after a heavy collision in goal. Pat Hollis to his credit was able to resume playing after earlier coming from the field with concussion. To make matters worse, the Panthers were down to 12 players for the last 7 minutes of the game when Daniel Foster threw a punch out of no-where & was promptly sent to the sin-bin.
The Panthers to their credit staunchly defended their goal line over the closing minutes & it took a clever cross field kick from Terry Campese behind the line for Ryan Carr pounce on to get Mounties on the scoreboard with what proved to be the final play of the second half, leaving Penrith deserved 18-12 winners despite only playing with just 45% possession for the game including just 41% for the second half. Mounties despite their advantage in possession made more than twice as many errors as the Panthers – 19-9 despite enjoying a 10-2 penalty advantage from referee Liam Nichols.
The Panthers now return home for the final round of the regular season next Saturday before the finals series kicks off the following week. They will take on another side looking to seal a top 4 spot in Wentworthville in shapes to be a real tough Battle of the West clash.
Penrith 18 (Luke Capewell, Tom Eisenhuth, Leilani Latu tries; Wes Naiqama 3/3 goals) def. Mounties 12 (Shane Shackleton, Ryan Carr tries; Terry Campese 2/2 goals) at Leichhardt Oval.