By Stewart Moses at Pepper Stadium
Newtown ended Penrith’s ten-game winning streak in the VB NSW Cup with a 16-point victory over the reigning premiers in a bruising encounter at the foot of the mountains. It’s the second time in a row that Newtown ended impressive winning streaks put together by the Panthers in opening their NSW Cup campaign after losing their first two matches of the season.
The major talking point after the game was the decision by referee Liam Nicholls to send off Adam Docker for a shoulder-charge to the head of Jets fullback, Nathan Gardner, in the 26th minute. Given the Panthers were without Ben Murdoch-Masila, Adrian Davis, Isaac John, George Jennings and Sam Anderson from last week’s side that accounted for the Bears, the send-off decision proved pivotal as the Panthers were unable to claw back the Jets’ 8-0 lead at the time of the incident.
The decision by coach Greg Matterson to shuffle his side and start Dallas Wells alongside Tom Murphy in the halves, paid early dividends for the Jets. A 40/20 kick from the halfback allowed for a quick shift left from the restart when Wells and late call-up Tinirau Arona combined to provide an unmarked Sami Sauiluma a free passage to score in the corner in the seventh minute.
Murphy, Junior Roqica and Jack Bird started to cause Penrith’s inexperienced left-edge defence all sorts of problems and eventually they cracked under pressure when a Murphy cut-out pass put Bird around his opposite, Nu’u Akeripa to score from 30 metres out and double Newtown’s lead to 8-0 after 24 minutes.
With Waqa Blake placed on report and Adam Docker sent off soon after, the Panthers were clearly rattled. They however did enough to prevent Newtown from further expanding its lead and went into half-time trailing by eight despite the Jets’ dominance in possession and territory as highlighted by their four line-breaks to nil.
The Panthers started the second half in similar manner to the Jets in the first when half Sam Scarlett, making his NSW Cup debut, kicked a 40/20. From the ensuing set, the Panthers capitalised through Robert Jennings, who found a gap out wide to score his first NSW Cup try from 10m out to cut the deficit to 8-4 after 50 minutes.
Newtown stemmed the tide and re-established their eight point lead midway through the second half with the best try of the game to Murphy. Forty metres out, Newtown shifted play quickly to the right where Murphy combined brilliantly with Bird to put Jacob Gagan away down the touchline before some magic hands back inside by Bird found the halfback to score out wide.
Penrith, despite short a man, reduced the deficit to four points again with a try on club debut to Paul Simona, after fine lead-up work from Will Smith and Akeripa allowed the winger to step inside his opposite and score from close range.
Momentum ultimately shifted to the Jets in the 71st minute when a Roqica offload back inside to Pat Politoni allowed the hooker to surge into open territory before he kicked ahead for Wells in support only to be pulled back off the ball by Smith. Nicholls responded by placing the Penrith five-eighth in the sin-bin leaving the Panthers down to just 11 men for the remainder of the match.
The Jets took full advantage in the closing minutes as interchange prop Saulala Houma and Sauiluma both scored easy tries, converted by Murphy to give Newtown a comfortable win in the end.
For Newtown, Tom Murphy was the standout performer with a try, two try assists, two line-break assists and a line-break as he combined with Junior Roqica and the classy Jack Bird to terrorise Penrith’s shaky left-edge defence. For Penrith, prop Leilani Latu continued his strong start to the season with another solid performance on what was otherwise a disappointing day for the defending premiers.
This week will see Penrith travel to Newcastle to take on the Knights in the 2014 Grand Final replay at Hunter Stadium, while Newtown travel to Brookvale Oval to face Manly.
NEWTOWN JETS 24 (S Sauiluma 2, J Bird, T Murphy, S Houma tries; Murphy 2 goals) bt PENRITH PANTHERS 8 (R Jennings, P Simona tries)