Shannon Meyer reviews the battle for second spot which the Panthers dominated in the end.
Tries: Nathan Cleary (30), Stephen Crichton (39), Brent Naden (65), Apisai Koroisau (79),
Goals: Nathan Cleary (31, 57 pen, 62 – pen, 79)
Field Goals: Nathan Cleary (74)
Tries: Dane Gagai (9), Latrell Mitchell (21)
Goals: Adam Reynolds (8 – pen, 22)
Player of the Year Points
3 pts – Nathan Cleary (Panthers)
2 pts – Cameron Murray (Rabbitohs)
1 pt – Stephen Crichton (Panthers)
Second place on the NRL ladder was up for grabs on Friday night for Penrith and South Sydney at Suncorp Stadium, and the big question for South Sydney despite their current form was whether they are a genuine title contender given their terrible recent record against the current top two. For Penrith it was a second weekend for Nathan Cleary since his return from injury.
Souths took an early two-point lead courtesy of penalty in a very kickable position (for Adam Reynolds) after eight minutes after a reasonably even opening exchange.
Minutes later the Rabbitohs extended the lead. Souths went left, as they so often have this season, and of even more regularity it was Cody Walker throwing the last pass. This time it was Dane Gagai who grabbed the try after a brief struggle to get the ball down. This was after the Panthers gifted Souths the ball with an early tackle error close to their line. The conversion was a rare miss for Reynolds.
Souths returned the favour on the next set and Penrith should have scored themselves but made an error on the first play of two attempts from a scrum.
An outstanding 40-20 kick from Souths halfback Adam Reynolds set the Rabbitohs up for a second try as the game passed the 20 minute mark. And who else could set up the second try than Reynolds, the man whose 40-20 gave them the advantage? He threw a bullet pass to Keaon Koloamatangi who in turn flicked a lovely offload backwards to Latrell Mitchell who powered to the line to continue his recent try scoring. The successful conversion had the Rabbitohs a mildly surprising 12-0 in front.
There was another blow to the Panthers not long after the second Souths try as a head clash between Dylan Edwards and Viliame Kikau saw the Penrith fullback leave the field for a HIA.
A sloppy Souths error allowed Penrith to hit back though with some razzle dazzle rugby league and their first try of the night. A long cut-out pass to the right found Kurt Capewell and then onto Paul Momirovski who charged down the sideline for 20 metres and kicked the ball in-field at pace, and Cleary was on the scene first and the ball sat up best for him to score. He converted his own kick to reduce the score to 12-6.
Penrith had Souths on the ropes just before the half-time break and they made it count with just seconds remaining on the clock with their second try of the night.
After being gifted the ball after Souths penalties (three in five minutes), the Panthers went right on the last play with Cleary in charge, and he found new fill-in fullback Stephen Crichton who in turn found Momirovski and once again. Momirovski produced another fine chip inside on the run, and this time it was Crichton who was in the right place at the right time to score. The conversion was missed by Cleary, so Souths took a 12-10 lead to the break.
It was a good end to the half for Penrith who were arguably outplayed for the first 30 minutes, but were brought back into the game which a raft of penalties late in the second half.
HALF-TIME: Penrith Panthers 10 South Sydney Rabbitohs 12
The opening minutes and sets of the second half was a real arm wrestle with a lot of hard yards earned and defended up the middle of a Suncorp Stadium ground which was starting to look a little tired after so much rugby league there recently. There were glimpses of attack down the sides, but the execution wasn’t quite on yet since the break.
The first gift of the second half came in the 53rd minutes as Souths were penalised for obstructing a kick chase, which was a reasonably daft penalty to give as the Panthers got a full set on Souths’ 10 metre line. Penalties were looking like Souths’ big issue as they gave another one away in the subsequent set to make the count 8-2 in Penrith’s favour.
A ninth penalty not long after, for a Tom Burgess high tackle on Mitch Kenny, saw Penrith draw level as Nathan Cleary took the two points with just over 20 minutes to play. Penrith looked well on top at this stage.
There was a turning point for Souths not long after, as they forced a Penrith mistake on the first tackle after a downtown kick by Reynolds. But the referee pulled up Rabbitohs forward Mark Nicholls for being involved in the play after being offside and in front of the kicker. So instead of a full set in great position, South lost the lead when Cleary just snuck the penalty kick home.
A charitable Souths handed Penrith another present after a terrible mix up between Josh Mansour and Mitchell ended in a knock on and an offisde.
This mistake was punished in full when Penrith scored the first try of the second half. The Panthers went left and the key pass and try assist was thrown by Matt Burton after a poor defensive read from Campbell Graham, and Brent Naden was in the right place to receive the ball in space with 10 metres to the line. The sideline conversion was missed by Cleary, which meant the gap remained at six points, but Penrith looked the most likely to win from here.
Low on confidence, Mansour let the next bomb bounce as well, which saw him leave the field after having his head opened up with a cut after scrambling to clear up his initial mistake.
Souths looked unlikely to catch any bombs for the rest of the match, and another drop by Alex Johnston gave the Panthers more ball close to the Rabbitohs’ line. By the end of the set Cleary slotted a field goal easily to make the gap seven points and likely seal the game based on the current flow.
Penrith sealed the game with a final try with a minute to go to Apisai Koroisau who simply ran from dummy half, threw a dummy and scored without being touched. It was another gift to the Panthers as they were handed possession from yet another Souths mistake.
The Panthers were simply was too good for the Rabbitohs from the 30 minute mark onwards, and either suffocated the spark out of Souths or forced errors and penalties. It was the kind of win they needed with Cleary back on board to build confidence for another title tilt.
For South Sydney the question about whether they can beat either of the top two was either left unanswered or confirmed as a no for this season, and you could just about rule them for serious premiership charge now.
FULL-TIME: Penrith Panthers 25 South Sydney Rabbitohs 12
to be advised
Match Review Committee
to be advised