Jem Nash reviews an absolute classic between minor premiers the Penrith Panthers and defending champions the Sydney Roosters, with the Panthers emerging victorious in a thrilling 29-28 win.
|5th||Try Josh Morris (Roosters)||Roosters 4-0|
|6th||Goal Kyle Flanagan (Roosters)||Roosters 6-0|
|8th||Try Freddy Lussick (Roosters)||Roosters 10-0|
|15th||Try Josh Mansour (Panthers)||Roosters 10-4|
|21st||Try Nathan Cleary (Panthers)||Roosters 10-8|
|22nd||Goal Nathan Cleary (Panthers)||Scores tied 10-10|
|26th||Try Nathan Cleary (Panthers)||Panthers 14-10|
|27th||Goal Nathan Cleary (Panthers)||Panthers 16-10|
|36th||Try Nathan Cleary (Panthers)||Panthers 20-10|
|38th||Goal Nathan Cleary (Panthers)||Panthers 22-10|
|48th||Try Stephen Crichton (Panthers)||Panthers 26-10|
|50th||Goal Nathan Cleary (Panthers)||Panthers 28-10|
|52nd||Try James Tedesco (Roosters)||Panthers 28-14|
|53rd||Goal Kyle Flanagan (Roosters)||Panthers 28-16|
|63rd||Try Josh Morris (Roosters)||Panthers 28-20|
|64th||Goal Kyle Flanagan (Roosters)||Panthers 28-22|
|77th||Field Goal Nathan Cleary (Panthers)||Panthers 29-22|
|78th||Try Angus Crichton (Roosters)||Panthers 29-26|
|78th||Goal Kyle Flanagan (Roosters)||Panthers 29-28|
It was all the Roosters early, with the defending premiers dominating possession and territory through the opening 10 minutes. Josh Morris notched the first try of the night through a blind side raid to make it 6-0 in the opening stages. The Roosters then pounced after a Viliame Kikau penalty gave them good field position, with Freddy Lussick darting over from dummy half to increase the lead to 10 points. From then on it was all Panthers. After forcing Brett Morris out inside their own half, the home side took advantage of a penalty with Jarome Luai setting up Kikau: he handed the ball off to Josh Mansour on the left edge, who finished off the backline movement to make it 10-4.
It was then Nathan Cleary who took full control of the game with a hat-trick before half time. His first came after a messy offload from Liam Martin dropped down to Dylan Edwards, who handed it off to Cleary to score next to the posts to make it 10-10. Next, Luai put in a perfect grubber following a Kikau break, which Cleary dived on to score to give the Panthers their first lead of the night. It was again Luai who set up their fourth try: a perfect inside ball putting Stephen Crichton into space, who then passed it off to Cleary in support which gave the Panthers a 22-10 lead at half time.
The Panthers came out of the break the better side and they had a chance to increase the lead to 14 points before Cleary kicked the penalty shot straight into the posts. The Panthers would get the ball back and Luai would once again play a big role as he batted back a Cleary kick to set up a Crichton try in the corner: the Panthers were now well on top, leading 28-10. The Roosters would not go away though, and would bounce back through James Tedesco to reduce the deficit. Josh Morris then had his second as a Luke Keary bomb bobbled off a couple of Panthers with the veteran centre grounding the ball in the corner. Ten minutes of end-to-end footy followed before Cleary slotted a field goal to increase the Panthers’ lead to seven points with just three minutes left. Angus Crichton was able to score in the final minutes to set up a grandstand finish, but the Panthers held on to advance to their first preliminary final since 2014.
There were some strong performances right across the field from both sides, but Nathan Cleary’s hat-trick in the first half set up the win. The Panthers were on the ropes early, but they were able to score four tries in 20 minutes, with Cleary securing a hat-trick in just 15 minutes.
Luai was on fire and played a big role in all of his halves partner’s tries, particularly in the second and third, with a pinpoint grubber and a perfect inside pass setting up the 12-point lead heading into half time.
Cleary’s kicking game was also near perfect and he showed nerves of steel to slot the late field goal which ultimately decided the game. Both Cleary and Luai have formed a stellar partnership in the halves: if they keep up their form the Panthers will have to be favourites to go all the way in 2020.
Penrith Panthers: 1 Dylan Edwards 2 Josh Mansour 3 Brent Naden 4 Stephen Crichton 5 Brian To’o 6 Jarome Luai 7 Nathan Cleary 8 James Tamou 9 Apisai Koroisau 10 James Fisher-Harris 11 Viliame Kikau 12 Liam Martin 13 Isaah Yeo. Interchange:14 Tyrone May 15 Kurt Capewell 16 Moses Leota 17 Zane Tetevano.
Sydney Roosters: 1 James Tedesco 2 Daniel Tupou 3 Josh Morris 4 Joseph Manu 5 Brett Morris 6 Luke Keary 7 Kyle Flanagan 8 Jared Warea-Hargreaves 9 Freddy Lussick 10 Siosiua Taukeiaho 11 Boyd Cordner 16 Angus Crichton 13 Isaac Liu. Interchange:12 Sitili Tupouniua 15 Lindsay Collins 18 Nat Butcher 19 Mitchell Aubusson.