ROUND 4: Penrith Panthers v. Wests Tigers (Panthers Stadium, 5/4/19)
The Panthers hadn’t scored a single try against the Storm, while the Tigers had been thoroughly beaten by the Bulldogs at Campbelltown, when they met at Penrith for another battle of the West on Friday night. The Tigers were without Benji Marshall, forcing Josh Reynolds to step up with the boot, while both teams were faced with a slippery, dewy field that made it difficult for them to gain traction for large portions of the match, resulting in a low scoreline and a one point win for the Panthers.
The Tigers got the first penalty following a slow peel from Nathan Cleary, and elected to tap and go, but their additional field position came to nothing after some poor timing from Robbie and Reynolds on the right side of the attack, and a big defensive effort from Waqa Blake, who stormed in from long range to clean up Moses Mbye on the last. While Farah charged down the next Penrith kick, securing a fresh set of six, his next kick went too far, getting the mountain men seven tackles.
Dean Whare now followed Robbie by kicking too far – on the fourth tackle – diluting the Panthers’ brief advantage as the game settled back into the slog of the opening minutes. While the visitors had almost doubled Penrith’s metres, this still felt like a pretty even contest, with the Panthers getting the ball back almost immediately after Elijah Taylor made a forward pass early in the next tackle count. James Maloney responded with his first great kick of the night, forcing Luke Brooks to take the footy into touch to prevent Blake putting down the first four points of the game.
The Panthers now had the first dropout of the match, and Vilame Kikau repeated his shortside raid of the previous set, laying the platform for Josh Mansour to crash over in the left corner. For a moment, it looked like Mansour had used Mahe Fonua’s bullocking defence to his advantage, allowing the burly prop to send him over the sideline – but into the air, where he twisted around to get the Steeden down before tumbling into touch. After some pretty sustained scrutiny, though, it turned out Mansour had made the slightest contact with the sideline while spinning in the air.
Nevertheless, the Tigers didn’t build any real momentum off this shift in fortune, thanks in part to a second unforced error from Taylor – this time a mistake in the play-the-ball – before Taylor leaked a penalty for crowding the play. Taking their cues from the Tigers’ decision to tap and go earlier in the game, the Panthers took the two here, with Cleary putting the first points on the board before Taylor was pinged for yet another mistake after being called offside a minute later.Embed from Getty Images
Penrith responded with one of their first big right sweeps, but it didn’t really come together, partly as a result of the slippery surface, and partly due to some inspired defence from Corey Thompson, who disposed of Blake just as he was trying to pull the play together. Siona Katoa might have been pinged for a ball strip shortly after, but the mountain men got their biggest chance so far when Josh Reynolds fumbled the footy a moment later. Cleary booted it forward and scooped it up, shifting it out to Mansour, who would have scored if he hadn’t slipped on the dewy grass.
Even so, Penrith had good momentum, but the Tigers stepped up and showcased their best scrambling defence of the night so far. Five minutes later, they got a chance to level the score after James Fisher-Harris was hit with a loose carry – really a strip from Farah – and Reagan Campbell-Gillard was pinged for being offside. This time, they opted to take the two, but it wasn’t any more remunerative than their decision to tap and go earlier on, as Esan Marsters missed the upright from a fairly straightforward angle, costing them the goal that could have won them the game.
Reynolds now stepped up and compensated for Marsters’ frustrated effort with his best kick of the night so far – a sneaky grubber that forced Mansour to boot the footy over the dead ball line before Michael Chee Kam could get to it. This marked the start of a forgettable period for Dylan Edwards, who had made six errors against the Storm the previous week, and who was held to have knocked on during the first play now, giving the Tigers another bout of field position immediately, despite the replay showing that he’d managed to clean up the Steeden just before hitting the turf.
The Tigers now had the most sustained period of field position of the game, and needed to make the most of it or else concede the momentum back to Penrith. After a couple of big runs on the right side of the field from the frontrowers, Reynolds bookended the whole sequence with another brilliant kick – a mirror image of the grubber that had set up the dropout in the first place. This time, Thompson was a bit quicker than Chee Kam, arriving at the footy before DWZ could bump it into touch, and taking advantage of the wet field to slide along the grass on one foot to score.
Full credit has to go to Reynolds too, whose kick looked even better in slow motion, capping it off with his trademark skip into the air before making contact with his boot, giving the Steeden just a bit more propulsion in the wet conditions. While the score remained 2-4 after Marsters missed another kick, the Tigers got another bout of field position almost immediately, thanks to an ill conceived pass from Edwards to Mansour right on the Penrith line. Yet despite two successive dropouts, the mountain men survived, keeping it a two point game as they headed to the sheds.Embed from Getty Images
The second stanza started pretty quietly, with Penrith amping up their defence, until Robert Jennings lost the footy five minutes in. The mountain men briefly looked set to capitalise on this shift in momentum with a series of inspired inroads into the Tigers line, only for Josh Aloiai to force a knock-on from Cleary with a monster tackle right on the chalk. It had now been over 160 minutes of football since the Panthers had scored their last try, with Edwards leaking yet another penalty with a tackle on Thompson in the air, before Isaah Yeo was pinged for crusher tackle a play later.
These two errors finally broke the back of the Penrith defence, as Reynolds stepped up once again, running into the line at the end of the next set, and squaring up the defence as if he was planning to pass or play for the try himself, only to send his best grubber of the night off the side of his right boot. He kicked directly towards Cleary and Kikau, but was so close that they couldn’t easily secure the footy, leaving it open for Ryan Matterson to catch on the bounce and slam to ground.
These would be the last points that the Tigers scored, however, since Marsters now missed his fifth consecutive kick, keeping it a converted try lead. For a moment, it looked like this might be enough to ensure the visitors a win, since the score was still set at 2-8 as the last ten minutes of the match got underway. Sensing danger, Reynolds and Brooks both made field goal attempts, but Reynolds’ careened off the uprights, while Brooks’ faded away to the left at the last minute.
Instead, two Penrith kicks determined the last passage of the game, starting with an inspired and unexpected long-range effort from Maloney on the third tackle that initially seemed to confound his team mates, but ended up trapping Mbye in goal for a repeat set. Despite a huge opening tackle from Fonua on Kikau, Cleary mirrored Maloney by kicking early on the restart, trapping Brooks in goal on the other side for another dropout. Finally, on the next set, the Panthers consolidated, as Edwards made up for two spotty games of football by completing a right side raid that got the mountain men their first try of the night with one minute left on the clock.
With Cleary adding the extras from the sideline right on the siren, the game slid into golden point. In a condensed version of the final five minutes of the game proper, Brooks tried and failed to send through a field goal, before Maloney’s boot ended up determining the outcome, securing a one point win for the mountain men at the 84th minute. It was an apt ending to a game that has exposed the Tigers’ kicking woes more than any other in recent memory, meaning that the team will have to rally around Marsters as they prepare to take on the Broncos at Suncorp next week, while the Panthers will be looking for a bigger win margin when they meet the Titans at Cbus.
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