Shannon Meyer reviews the 2022 season opener where the defending premiers were way too good and started their title defence off with a win against a below par Manly Sea Eagles.
Penrith Panthers 28
Tries: Izack Tago 17, Stephen Crichton 29, Jarome Luai 45, Apisai Koroisau 55, Liam Martin 76
Goals: Stephen Crichton 18, 24 (pen) 47, 56
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 6
Tries: Ethan Bullemor 40
Goals: Reuben Garrick 40
MATCH REPORTEmbed from Getty Images
The 2022 kicked off at the reigning premiers’ ground, and the first half saw a lot of action, if not a lot of tries.
A penalty on the third tackle of the match provided the first occurrence of the new rule change for 2022, where a penalty was given instead of a set restart. It also gave Manly tremendous field position early. The Sea Eagles attacked Penrith’s line, but there was no Tom Trobjevic magic this time and Penrith’s defence was showing as much grit as their premiership season.
The attack wasn’t bad either, even without Nathan Cleary, as Penrith crossed the line with their first set of the match down the other end of the field. Late in the set the Panthers went left through the hands of Yeo to O’Sullivan to Edwards to Crichton who powered through the Manly defence. But the try was ruled out for interference and the first try of the 2022 NRL season was still to be scored.
Play went end-to-end thereafter, with neither team able to land the killer blow. But it sure was entertaining, and giving plenty for the rugby league-starved fans.
Penrith crossed the line again in the 11th minute after some flowing attacking play and a fine bullocking run close to the line by Brian To’o, but was ruled out again for interference. It was possibly harsh on Jarome Luai, but such is modern rugby league interpretation.
The attacking continued and Penrith were gifted a fresh set of six 10 metres out as a scrambling last tackle ended in a Jake Trobjevic knock on. It led to the first try of the season.
It was third time lucky for the Panthers, as last year’s rookie of the year Izack Tago crossed out wide. Play before the try went from both sides of the field through offloads, and finally a charging Kikau run and offload to the left found Api Koroisau who fired a sharp pass to the Penrith centre who found the line well. Stephen Crichton stepped up for the conversion (in the absence of Nathan Cleary) and nailed it.
He got to add two more points a few minutes later as the Panthers were gifted a penalty after Haumole Olakau’atu hit Scott Sorensen after he passed the ball. Penrith were well on top now, and Manly would be lucky to go to the break just eight points down.
Penrith almost scored again in the 30th minute, but Charlie Staines was pushed into touch as he dived for the corner.
Manly continued to do Penrith favours by coughing the ball up not long later, and within a set the Panthers had extended their lead. Stephen Crichton replicated his first effort of the night by charging over the line, after a beautiful cut out pass from Sean O’Sullivan caught out Brad Parker, unlike his Simpsons lookalike Hank Scorpio. O’Sullivan was looking a very capable backup for the Panthers and a shrewd piece of off-season business.
The conversion missed, and it was 12-0 with just under 10 minutes to the break. And Penrith nearly replicated the exact same move with their very next attacking set.
Just when it seemed that half time would be a relief for Manly, they threw the ball to the left with under a minute to go and came up with a try from deep in their own half. A lofted pass from Lachlan Croker to Kieran Foran, who then found a charging Tom Trbojevic who then had new Manly recruit Ethan Bullemor on his left, and the former Bronco evaded the Panthers’ defence for the 30 metres to score.
Just when it looked like a tired Manly would be grateful for just a 12-point half-time deficit, they now had a spring in their step and trailed by just six points. Penrith had been the better side for most of the second part of the first half, and had done well keeping Tom Trbojevic relatively quiet.
HALF-TIME: Penrith Panthers 12 Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 6
The second half started like most of the first half, with the Panthers pressuring the Manly defence, who were looking a little tired already.
Penrith added a third try after five minutes, when Jarome Luai slipped through some tired Manly defence from 10 metres out, after being in the right place at the right time for another Viliame Kikau offload. This was after Luai had thrown the ball to Kikau on the left.
The Panthers were then handed another gift when Manly kicked the ball out on the full from the kick off, but Manly were not punished this time. But they were being punished in defence by Penrith, who were really up for it in the season opener.
After receiving yet another gift from the Sea Eagles in the form of a set restart, Penrith hurt Manly even more with another try, this time to Panthers hooker Api Koroisau who muscled over from dummy half close to the line. The conversion made it 24-6, and a scoreline that probably mirrored Penrith’s domination to that point; with Manly looking tired, there looked to be a few more points to come.
A few moments around the 60 minute mark summed up the contest. Firstly, a rare Penrith error was successfully challenged, and a rare Manly attack in Penrith’s half and early in the tackle count came to nothing after a poor pass from dummy half. Then a rare Tom Trbojevic run close to the line was abruptly halted as the Panthers forced a mistake out of the 2021 Dally M Medal winner.
Errors crept into the latter part of the game from both sides (as you’d expect in the first competition game of the season), but notable was the way Penrith were forcing mistakes out of Tom Trbojevic and keeping him quiet.
The Panthers finished the night off in style with a final try to Liam Martin with four minutes to go. He ran to the line well to score from 10 metres out, but it was set up by the underrated ball player that is Isiah Yeo. This was after Manly had their only really meaningful attack on the Panthers’ line a few sets previous.
It was as good a start as the reigning premiers could hope for. The defence was as willing as ever, and the attack didn’t look to have been affected too much by the loss of star halfback Cleary. Aside from the three players nominated for player of the match, there are cases for Crichton, Isaah Yeo, O’Sullivan and more to have claimed a point or two, such was the Panthers’ performance.
For Manly, they will have better nights out in 2022, but the loss will do nothing to dispel the stat of theirs from 2021, where they were unable to beat any of their fellow top four finishers.
FULL-TIME: Penrith Panthers 28 Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 6
PLAYER OF THE YEAR POINTSEmbed from Getty Images
3 pts – Viliame Kikau (Panthers), 2 pts – Apisai Koroisau (Panthers), 1 pt – Jarome Luai (Panthers)
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Panthers: 1. Dylan Edwards 2. Charlie Staines 3. Izack Tago 4. Stephen Crichton 5. Brian To’o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Sean O’Sullivan 8. Moses Leota 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Liam Martin 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Mitch Kenny 15. Scott Sorensen 16. Spencer Leniu 20. Jaeman Salmon
Sea Eagles: 1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Jason Saab 3. Brad Parker 4. Morgan Harper 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Kieran Foran 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Toafofoa Sipley 9. Lachlan Croker 10. Martin Taupau 11. Haumole Olakau’atu 12. Ethan Bullemor 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Tolutau Koula 15. Karl Lawton 16. Sean Keppie 17. Taniela Paseka
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