ROUND 19: Penrith Panthers v. Canberra Raiders (Panthers Stadium, 28/7/19)

Sunday afternoon’s game at Penrith started with a stunning period of field position from the Panthers, and a defensive response that was almost as good from Canberra, who only conceded four points before getting their first complete set about eleven minutes in. A handling error from Joseph Tapine got Penrith possession, and they scored almost immediately, off a cut-out pass from Nathan Cleary and then a crisp short ball from Dean Whare to put Brian To’o over in the corner.

Cleary has struggled the most from the right sideline in 2019, and sure enough he shanked the kick away to the left. Still, the second best defence of the year had been breached by the second worst attack of the year, and Cleary came close to putting Frank Winterstein across in the same part of the park a set later. From there, Mitch Kenny tried to slam over beneath the posts, before James Maloney got Penrith the first goal line dropout of the night on the final tackle.

Jack Wighton responded with a massive fifty-five metre kick, but the Panthers weren’t dissuaded by the distance, making their way back to the try line where James Tamou was held up for what seemed like an age, before Dylan Edwards broke out of a tackle, and Kenny’s kick ricocheted off Tapine, getting Penrith their sixth successive set. Big runs from Yeo and Tamou followed, then it was Cleary’s turn to secure a dropout after Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad was forced to clean up the footy in goal.

By this stage, the Panthers’ energy was starting to wane, and a near fumble from Maloney was followed by a real fumble from James Fisher-Harris, as he tried to get to his feet after almost twisting and spinning over the line. This was a massive letoff for the Raiders, who still hadn’t completed a single set, and Aidan Sezer wisely kicked for touch shortly after to give his team mates some time to breathe following one of their most sustained defensive periods in weeks.

A handling error from To’o on the first tackle now got the Raiders into the red zone for the first time in the game. They made the most of it, too, with Josh Hodgson linking up with Josh Papalii for their first try. While Winterstein got his hands around Papalii right on the line, the Canberra prop was running too hard and fast a line to be brought down, and the visitors notched up a two point lead once Jarrod Croker booted the first conversion of the afternoon through the posts.

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About twenty minutes in, the Panthers had one of their best sets of the night, coming agonizingly close to a superb try. First, Edwards accelerated rapidly after collecting the high ball, getting away from Hodgson and Leilua before being brought to ground with very little Penrith support coming up on his inside. Nevertheless, Cleary managed to get right to the line a moment later, where he was tackled by Papalii. For a second, it looked like he might be able to reach out a hand and ground the Steeden, but he’d reckoned without some follow-up defence from CNK.

Cleary now had a bit of a rough patch, making the error to get the Raiders back down the park, before being pinged for an offside penalty. Whare was sent to the bin for a professional foul as part of the same sequence, and a second later Elliott Whitehead slammed the footy down in the precise spot where Whare would have been defending, barging his way through a scrambling three man effort from Yeo, Cleary and Edwards, with the Steeden clutched against his chest.

Once more, Croker added the extras, bringing the Raiders to triple Penrith at 4-12 despite the fact that only three tries had been scored between them. While the Panthers managed to weather Whare’s absence without conceding any more points, it was still paramount that they score the next try before the half time siren rang out. They got a good chance when Corey Horsburgh coughed up the footy and Fisher-Harris scooped it up, giving them a fresh shot at the line.

The set ended with a kick from Wayde Egan that initially seemed over long, only for a great chase from Edwards to force a much-needed dropout. It came to nothing, though, when Whare lost the ball on the first tackle, getting Canberra back on the attack again. For a moment, a big hit from Reagan Campbell-Gillard seemed to quash the Raiders just after they’d got six again, only for a hand in the tackle from Fisher-Harris to make it a double knock-on, putting the visitors on the front foot once more.

The last few minutes were pretty emotional, from Horsburgh lobbing the footy into RCG’s head, to Maloney arging so profusely with Ashley Klein on the siren that he came pretty close to verbal dissent. No surprise, given the history between these two teams, but the Panthers didn’t come away too badly off, since a penalty kick from Cleary right on half time – following a flop from Siliva Havilii – narrowed the margin to a converted try.

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The second stanza started dynamically, with Hodgson executing a strip on Edwards, only to lose the footy forward as he was doing so. Edwards then responded by attempting a strip on CNK under the high ball but came up short. A huge run and linebreak from Wighton seemed destined to produce points, especially once he popped the footy over to Croker right on the line, but Cleary was now called to have pulled off a clean strip, despite the replay showing Mansour was also in on the tackle.

Canberra now needed to consolidate, and they did so with one of their most spectacular team tries of the season. It started with an offload from Havilii to Hodgson and got better from there, as the no. 9 sent the footy across to John Bateman, who scooted around Maloney, drew in Brett Naden and then popped it across to Rapana. Rapana now mirrored Bateman by pulling in Mansour, before shifting the Steeden out to Michael Oldfield, who drew on Wighton’s splendid run as he stormed down the right side of the field.

In the single most elegant sequence of the match so far, Oldfield booted the ball back in field at just the right moment, where Sezer was waiting to scoop it up on the first bounce and slam it to ground for another four points. Yet the Panthers made even more of a bounce a set later, when Maloney concluded with a chip that careened backwards and straight into the hands of Fisher-Harris, who caught-and-passed it on the bounce to Moses Leota, fresh on the field and raring to bring it down beneath the posts as the two Canberra wingers converged upon him.

This time Cleary added the extras from right in front, narrowing the scoreline to a six point difference. The Panthers had bounced back, but Canberra would regain their lead with two successive tries, both of which were fairly dispiriting for the home team, and for Mansour in particular. The first came at the end of a crossfield kick from Sezer, and saw Sauce try to clean up the Steeden three times before leaving it open for CNK to chase it down and score.

First, Mansour leaped above Rapana in the air to try and collect the footy into his chest, but pressure from the Canberra winger prevented him securing it cleanly. Then, he reached out his right hand to try and scoop it away from the defence but found it bouncing away from him once again. Finally, and desperately, he launched his whole torso onto the football, but the impact was too great, ricocheting it out of his grasp and in goal, where Naden and CNK both competed for the chase.

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This was a low point for Mansour, who’d made a valiant effort to clean up an unpredictable ball in every possible way, but the Canberra try wasn’t entirely on his shoulders. Instead of trying to ground the footy, or at least exert some downward pressure, Naden attempted to tap it into touch. In doing so, he underestimated just how close and fast CNK was in the chase, and left the Steeden open for the Canberra fullback to put another four points on the board.

The next try came a couple of minutes later, when Rapana simply busted through a Mansour tackle on the wing. Once again, the next line of defence didn’t hold up, as Rapana managed to get the football down despite a pack effort from Edwards, Maloney and Naden, all of whom were on top of him, without preventing the bunker getting a clear perspective on Rapana triumphantly getting the ball to ground. This time, Croker missed the conversion, but the Raiders were still a solid fourteen ahead.

Penrith had a flashback to the opening twelve minutes about twelve minutes out from the end, when they got another sustained bout of field position, thanks in part to a knock-on from Bailey Simonsson, an offside penalty for Sezer, and a flop from Emre Guler. Both Liam Martin and RCG were held up over the line as the Panthers’ restless energy started to mount, culminating with Cleary choosing to tap and go from ten metres out before being brought to ground right on the line.

Still, this turned out to be the right decision, as Cleary followed up with a rapid play-the-ball that allowed Egan to shoot a rapid pass across to Tamou, who mirrored Papalii’s barnstorming run earlier in the match by slipping out of a tackle from Dunamis Lui to touch the ball to turf – exactly the show of speed and strength needed from a captain at this point in the game. Cleary added the extras as quickly as possible, as Penrith set out for another two converted tries for a secure win.

The Raiders couldn’t quite relax until Bateman scored five minutes from the end, following a short dropout from Maloney. Penrith couldn’t quite muster one of the comebacks that have marked their recent games against Canberra, and so ended their superb winning streak, meaning they’ll be looking for a big win when they meet the Bulldogs at Bankwest next week. On the other side of the Steeden, this was a sturdy win for the Raiders, who will be keen to draw on this momentum when they travel to Mt. Smart to take on a Warriors outfit smarting from their two point loss to Parra on Saturday.

About Billy Stevenson (751 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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