Shannon Meyer reviews a very Good Friday win for a very good Penrith Panthers side, as they make it 20 wins in a row at Penrith Stadium.
Penrith Panthers 40
Tries: Jarome Luai (20), Scott Sorenson (35), Charlie Staines (51), Taylan May (54), Liam Martin (58), Spencer Leniu (70), Izack Tago (79).
Goals: Nathan Cleary 6 (22, 37, 56, 59, 72, 79).
MATCH REPORTEmbed from Getty Images
The Brisbane Broncos faced a hard task on Good Friday, trying for their first win at the ground since 2009, and breaking a 19-game winning streak for the Panthers at Penrith Stadium that pre-dates COVID-19, especially with Penrith in such great form.
The opening exchanges were competitive with both sides looking lively; Penrith could have easily been in front in those opening minutes but for Taylan May missing a chance. Not long after that the Broncos took a surprise lead.
On the back of a territory-eating early tackle penalty, and good work forcing a drop out from the Panthers, the Broncos opened the scoring on their right in the 10th minute. Adam Reynolds threw a great cut-out to last week’s hero Kotoni Staggs, who charged through the Panthers’ defense and lobbed an inside offload to a following Tesi Niu who slid in untouched. Reynolds finished his work with the first conversion of the night and Brisbane led 6-0.
The Broncos looked up to the task of playing the minor premiers as the followed up their first try. Taylan May was shut down in a great Selwyn Cobbo tackle that a previous Broncos side would have conceded. Moments later Reynolds turned a Broncos drop-out into their attack as he fired a worm burner over the sideline. Next set they went close with Cobbo again. The Broncos were, dare to say, on top. They did have a 100% completion rate at the 20-minute mark.
But Penrith aren’t the reigning premiers and competition leaders through luck, and the Panthers scored their first of the night not long later. It was through one of their grand final heroes in Jarome Luai. The ball went left and the Panthers five eighth dummied and stepped off his left and brushed aside some would-be Broncos tacklers from 10 metres out with an explosive burst of speed. The conversion made it 6-6 at the halfway mark of the first half.
Brisbane nearly hit the front again after a Panthers knock on when late in the set Niu surprised the Panthers with a little grubber close to the line. But not more than Staggs who surprised them by stealing the ball with a great chase and appearing to score. The on-field try decision was overturned because of an obvious drop when looking at a replay. On the back of multiple set restarts Penrith went close as well on the next set but the score remained 6-6.
The game continued at a great pace, with loads of great attack from both sides. One Broncos charge down their right, through the electric duo Staggs and Cobbo, almost led to a try. Sadly, Niu looked to pick up a leg injury chasing the infield kick. The upside was that it appeared Selwyn Cobbo would be given a run at his preferred fullback position.
Perhaps the changing of the Broncos’ right side defense had them a little unsettled, but Penrith had taken the lead not long after. The Panthers were looking to head left as you would expect, but instead of the likely candidates turning on the magic it was interchange forward Scott Sorenson who stepped off his left and broke through the Broncos’ defense and charged the required 20 metres to the line. The conversion made it 12-6 with just minutes before the break.Embed from Getty Images
Brisbane had played a great first half of football, again led by Staggs and Reynolds, but they also did against the Roosters last weekend only to lose their way early in the second half and go on to lose the game. Could the Broncos turn that around against the competition’s best side? The signs looked good but there was a six-point deficit to overturn first. Penrith though looked composed as ever and would no doubt be hard to crack.
HALF-TIME: Penrith Panthers 12 Brisbane Broncos 6Embed from Getty Images
Penrith had a great chance to extend their lead just after half-time as Api Koroisau slipped through the Broncos’ defense, and the try was bombed a few plays later when Kikau couldn’t hold onto a Luai pass. It was an early statement from the Panthers. As were the plethora of uncatchable bombs from Nathan Cleary aimed at fill-in fullback Cobbo, who did well to hang onto any of them.
It was becoming a battle of the kickers, as Reynolds was also in fine form with the boot for the Broncos and leading the side well.
Breaking up the kicking duel in the 47th minute was the sin binning of Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards and Broncos prop Keenan Palasia after a disagreement following Edwards winning a penalty for Penrith. Both were sin binned for open handed slaps to each other’s faces; it was no Will Smith-Oscars slap but deemed nasty enough by the referee to warrant a break for each player. Perhaps the former Oscar winner would have been sent off if he played rugby league?
Penrith came off best in the 12-man contest, and stretched their lead three minutes later. After being set up with another Koroisau break up the middle, and Cleary going close to scoring on the left, the Panthers went right through the hands quickly, with Liam Martin throwing the long, last pass to winger Charlie Staines who avoided the Broncos’ cover defense to dive over in the corner. The conversion was missed and Penrith led 16-6.Embed from Getty Images
The Panthers’ lead increased with the very next set, and this was set up through another barnstorming run from Sorenson who charged through the Broncos’ defense again and got within 10 metres of the line. Cleary followed that run up with a flat cross-field banana kick that somehow the in-form May picked up on the half volley at pace on the wing to continue his scoring ways. Cleary nailed the easier conversion this time and the Panthers were now 22-6 in front. Once again the Broncos couldn’t follow up a great first half performance.
It was becoming all too easy for Penrith as they increased their lead a few minutes later. After being gifted great territory and possession by a Cobbo error – being bundled over the sideline on an early tackle – Liam Martin ran a good line off an Isaah Yeo pass, and the Panthers forward made pretty light work of the Broncos’ goal-line defense to add himself to the try scoring list. With 20 minutes to go it was 28-6 and game over effectively. A shame after a competitive first half.
The Broncos hadn’t given up though, they were just being blown away by the premiers. But that didn’t stop them pegging the Panthers back with 15 minutes to go with a rare glut of possession in the second half. The attack was set up by another charge down the right from Staggs, and eventually finished off by Staggs after a set restart. The Broncos centre was first on the chase of a perfectly weighted Reynolds grubber to score his first try of the night, and give the Broncos fans something to cheer for. As did the sideline conversion to make it 28-12.
In the aftermath of that try Cleary was placed on report: it looked like he was using his leg to help tackle Billy Walters to the ground.
The good times didn’t last long for the Broncos, as Penrith scored their sixth try not long after. Following an argument with Jarome Luai after pulling his hair in the previous tackle, Broncos lock Jack Hetherington forgot he had to defend close to the line, and he and Corey Paix couldn’t stop Spencer Leniu close to the line as the Panthers forward simply charged at the posts, with neither of the Broncos defenders able to stop him. The easy conversion stretched the score out to 34-12.
Penrith pressured the Broncos for the remainder of the second half, and after holding on defiantly Brisbane conceded with just seconds to go. It appeared an ordinary run-of-the-mill May try, but video replays and a Bunker call awarded a penalty try to the Panthers centre Izack Tago after Staggs pushed Tago in the back as he chased the ball in the in-goal. Cleary sealed the night with a conversion in front, and Penrith ran out 40-12 winners.
For Penrith it was another display of dominance, and the hardest decision of the night was who to give ‘player of the match’ points to, with a genuine shout to nearly every Penrith player on the field. If there’s improvement left in this Penrith team, it is a very scary thought for the rest of the competition.
Brisbane have plenty to take away from the game, one major thing is the return to form of Staggs, who will lead them to victories against lesser opposition than the Panthers tonight. Reynolds too is looking the steady hand the Broncos have needed in recent seasons. But they simply don’t have the class of Penrith right now, but look good enough for a lower top eight position. Maybe.
FULL-TIME: Penrith Panthers 40 Brisbane Broncos 12
PLAYER OF THE YEAR POINTSEmbed from Getty Images
3 pts – Nathan Cleary (Panthers), 2 pts – Scott Sorenson (Panthers), 1 pt – Dylan Edwards (Panthers)
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