The Panthers were looking for a comeback after their shocking opening against the Wests Tigers last week when they hosted New Zealand at Penrith on Friday evening. They got no joy, however, as the Warriors dominated the entire match, despite Penrith enjoying virtually all the field position over the first ten minutes. Patrick Herbert made the first error, and Peta Hiku followed by knocking the footy forward out of James Fisher-Harris’ hands in an attempt to prevent a try.
Isaiah Papali’i and Issac Luke then made slow peels within thirty seconds of each other, and both times the Panthers chose to tap and go, instead of opting for a penalty kick. Sione Katoa managed to secure a dropout at the end of the set, and the mountain men probed their left edge for a couple of plays, before James Maloney followed with a second dropout. Nathan Cleary tried to make it a third shortly after, but David Fusitua cleaned up his grubber, and brought it back into the field of play.
This was a big letdown for the Panthers after so much possession, and almost as good as a try for the Warriors, who had held strong. That said, the Penrith attack hadn’t been all that concerted, and certainly hadn’t consolidated or intensified by the time they got to their third set. With James Tamou holding down, the Warriors got a boost back down the other end of the field, where they came very close to scoring, thanks to a deft pass from Luke out to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck on the right.
Perhaps RTS was pumped from finally having possession, since he opted to send a poor offload across to Ken Maumalo, instead of taking the tackle and relying on a rapid play-the-ball to continue his and Luke’s momentum. Nevertheless, two pretty straightforward tries for New Zealand followed, the first of which came fifteen minutes in, after an elaborate offload from Hiku that saw the Steeden pass through Kodi Nikorima and Lachlan Burr before Luke dashed across out of dummy half.
For a moment, it looked as if the New Zealand hooker was planning to set up another play, but he found the defence splitting before him as he arrived at the posts, crossing over beneath the crossbars to set up Herbert for the easiest conversion of the night. Proving just how much the Warriors have missed a running half, Nikorima broke through the line on the restart, and sent the footy across to Maumalo, who lost it backwards, where RTS collected it and resumed the play.Embed from Getty Images
The Panthers managed to temporarily halt this superb sequence, but a play later RTS ran into the line on the right side of the attack, shifting the Steeden to Herbert about fifteen metres out from the chalk. Like Luke, Herbert initially seemed to be looking for the next play, dummying and pausing before realising that he could take on the defence himself – and take them on he did, ricocheting off Waqa Blake, skittling Dylan Edwards, and then slamming to ground beneath Brian To’o.
With Herbert converting his own try, the Warriors were now twelve ahead, bringing back some bad memories for the Panthers in the wake of last week’s loss at Suncorp. Ten minutes out from the siren, and after a period of sustained New Zealand possession, Herbert booted through two more points following a hand in the ruck from Katoa. Moments later, Hiku lost the ball, and Cleary scooped it up and sent it out to Whare, but a botched pass to DWZ made it clear that Penrith weren’t even able to capitalise upon New Zealand errors.
The last big chance for Penrith in the first stanza came with an error in the play-the-ball from Jazz Tevaga early in the tackle count. The Panthers made some good headway, and Moses Leota was on the verge of scoring beside the posts on the fourth tackle, only to lose the footy due to a low hit from Tevaga, who made up for his mistake in the most spectacular manner. While Maumalo lost the ball forward with forty seconds to go, it was too late for Penrith to really do anything with it, and they headed into the sheds with nothing on the board.
Three minutes into the second half, Cleary aimed a kick at Nikorima’s hand, banking on it ricocheting off the ex-Bronco as he tried to clean it up. The gamble paid off, but came to nothing when Fisher-Harris made an unforced error early in the tackle count by putting down a pass from Cleary himself. A handling error from Herbert got the Panthers another chance right away, and Viliame Kikau would have spun over on the third tackle without a big hit from Bunty Afoa, but that brief glimpse of momentum also came to nothing, as Maumalo contained DWZ pretty easily on the final play.
To make things even worse, DWZ and Edwards miscommunicated under the high ball, as Edwards collected the Steeden into his chest, and Dallin was unable to correct his trajectory enough to prevent himself from slamming into his fullback. It was as if DWZ had momentarily mistaken himself for the fullback, slipping back into his old role for the nadir of what was quickly becoming a nightmare match for the mountain men, especially at their home ground.Embed from Getty Images
Luckily, neither Edwards nor DWZ were injured, but they couldn’t luxuriate in their relief for very long, since Herbert promptly booted through another penalty goal following a slow peel from Fisher-Harris. An unlucky call for Jarome Luai got the Warriors some more field position, but Blake Green kicked too hard at the end of it, gifting the Panthers a seven tackle set, and their best chance in some time. Once again, though, it came to nothing, thanks to an error from Kaide Ellis when collecting the footy from Blake.
Tevaga responded with a linebreak, sending the footy backwards, where it was briefly contested, only to scoot around and receive his own pass. Moments later, Nikorima sliced through the line as effortlessly as Luke and Herbert had during the first stanza, easily eluding Edwards and Cleary to put down another soft try for the away team. Eighteen minutes out from the end, Maloney forced his third dropout of the match, but the Panthers made yet another error in the opposition’s twenty – this time a pass from Edwards that missed its mark and headed over the sideline.
With Herbert sending through another penalty kick after Tamou was called offside, the Panthers had no choice but to tap and go when Karl Lawton was pinged for not being square at marker a couple of sets later. While Whare might have sent Liam Martin across for his first NRL try, the Warriors managed to force an error from Edwards immediately, setting up Agnatius Paasi to slam over from fifteen out, while carrying three defenders with him, for the most spectacular post-contact metres of the evening.
Ninety seconds out from the end, Kikau crossed over for what could barely be called a consolation try, since even his gutsy effort right on the line paled in comparison to Papali’i’s run. The Warriors will be keen to continue that rhythm next week, and continue making the most of Nikorima, when they host the Broncos in Auckland. On the other side of the Steeden, the Panthers will have to do some serious soul-searching before they head to Bankwest to take on Parramatta on Thursday night.