Shannon Meyer reviews a highly entertaining Grand Final replay at Penrith Stadium that saw the home side secure another win over the Rabbitohs.
Penrith Panthers 26
Tries: Izack Tago (2), Stephen Crichton (11), Taylan May 2 (18, 49), Liam Martin (69)
Goals: Nathan Cleary 3 (51, 51 – pen, 70)
South Sydney Rabbitohs 12
Tries: Campbell Graham (15), Cody Walker (60)
Goals: Latrell Mitchell 2 (16, 61)
The Rabbitohs headed west to try and get revenge over their 2021 grand final foes, but given the Panthers’ form already in 2022 it was going to be a tough ask in general, without even considering the Panthers’ outstanding home record.
It wasn’t a great start for the Rabbitohs; they lost Mark Nicholls to an injury after just two minutes, conceding a penalty in the process. Before the next set was finished the Panthers were in front.
Not surprising given Viliame Kikau’s form this season, they went left and Nathan Cleary found Kikau and then Jarome Luai, both of whom had spooked the Rabbitohs from making meaningful tackles. Izack Tago was in support and made it to the line way too easy. Three minutes in and Penrith were 4-0 in front after Cleary’s first conversion attempt missed.Embed from Getty Images
Having handed Penrith’s great territory from an earlier error, the Rabbitohs went further behind less than 10 minutes later. After probing to the left earlier in the set, the Panthers simply threw the ball to the right until there were no more Souths defenders to get around and Stephen Crichton eased to the line untouched. Of course Cleary, Isaah Yeo, and Dylan Edwards were involved. Another missed conversion kept the score 8-0 to Penrith.Embed from Getty Images
It didn’t take too long for Souths to hit back, as on the back of a penalty from their next attacking set they scored their first try of the night. The Rabbitohs went right on an early tackle through quick hands, and the very underrated Campbell Graham ran through some pretty ordinary left-side defence to score with ease. Latrell Mitchell’s conversion reduced the gap to two points.Embed from Getty Images
The try-scoring hero turned villain in the next set, as Graham came up with an error that Penrith punished swiftly. Again down the left Luai found Kikau who stormed down the left, attracted defenders, and provided the perfect pass to Taylan May to slide into the corner and continue his hot scoring form. Cleary was having an off night with the conversions and missed his third straight, meaning Souths were flattered by the 12-6 scoreline. After 20 minutes, this game had nearly outscored the previous two matches.
Souths were given a golden chance to narrow the gap again, through penalties, forcing a dropout, and getting a set restart: they looked to have done the job. Souths were shaping to send the ball right, but the rookie Souths halfback Lachlan Ilias jinked off his right and ran the 10 metres required to score his first ever try. Sadly for Rabbitohs fans The Bunker reviewed and found Tom Burgess has impeded a covering James Fisher-Harris. A little later a Cody Walker break gave Souths another big opportunity close to the line, but the enthusiastic Panthers defence was too good.
The rest of the half saw no increase in points scored for either side: not from a lack of trying from both sides, in both attack and defence, especially the Panthers’ outstanding goal-line defence. The last seconds of the match were an absolute delight of ad-lib rugby league.
HALF-TIME: Penrith Panthers 12 South Sydney Rabbitohs 6Embed from Getty Images
Souths started the second half with a little slice of luck, with a Captain’s Challenge overturning a knock on that would have given the Panthers a great attacking opportunity. The Rabbitohs blew the opportunity with another error, their 10th in 25 sets. With the form Penrith were in, Souths couldn’t afford to give the ball up so easily.
After giving the ball up easily and throwing in some penalties as well, the Panthers had the Rabbitohs under pressure once again, and it eventually led to more points for Penrith.
After a reasonably lacklustre set for the Panthers, they went left on the last tackle with Luai finding Kikau once more, whose quick (almost tap-on) pass landed in the hands of May who burrowed his way to the line and scored his second try of the night. And he received his first kick to the face, as The Bunker identified that a covering Ilias had made contact with his boot to the face of May as he dived in to score. It became an eight-point try as Nathan Cleary nailed his first conversion of the night from the sideline, then helped himself to an easy two in front. Penrith were now up 20-6 and the Rabbitohs were going to struggle to catch up on current form.
Souths had a golden run around the middle part of the second half, with enough ball and territory to get themselves back into the game. And they eventually did through the man they needed the most to fire up – Walker.
In a too rare display of sharpness from the Rabbitohs left side this season, Ilias and Walker went to the left, and sharp, quick hands from Taane Milne found a flying Alex Johnston: he flew down the left and when he jinked infield he found Walker in support who scored. Mitchell’s conversion made it 20-12 with 20 minutes to go. Could Souths repeat their unlikely comeback against the Storm a few weeks back?
The answer was no, as Penrith scored the try that sealed the game through Liam Martin with 10 minutes to go. The try was set up with a deft left foot kick from Luai close to the line, and the back rower was chasing hardest to score.
Penrith, while not at their very best tonight, certainly showed they will be very hard to beat anytime this season. Their attacking brilliance is matched or even bettered by their outstanding defence and the hard work of the players, typified tonight by the like of Dylan Edwards, James Fisher-Harris, Isaah Yeo, and Matt Eisenhuth.
South Sydney certainly don’t look like a top four side at the moment, with their attack missing the spark of last year, which is no surprise given Adam Reynolds’ departure. And their error and penalty rate is way too high for a side that wants to be challenging for the premiership.
FULL-TIME: Penrith Panthers 26 South Sydney Rabbitohs 12
PLAYER OF THE YEAR POINTSEmbed from Getty Images
3 pts – Dylan Edwards (Panthers), 2 pts – Jarome Luai (Panthers), 1 pt – Isaah Yeo (Panthers)
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