The Penrith Panthers dealt with a multitude of line-up changes to end Mounties' seven game unbeaten run and move within a game of top spot with a gritty 16-10 win. The Panthers line up included a centre playing fullback, a hooker playing five-eighth and a prop playing out in the centres for the first time. Penrith bagged the two competition points with a simple game plan built around a deep kick-chase game and their defence- the best in the NSW Cup.
Despite the stormy conditions that required play to be temporarily suspended early in the second half, the game was a gripping affair played with a level of intensity that matched the hype surrounding the clash between the competition’s two best teams so far in 2015.
There was mixed news for Penrith’s finalised team with David Simmons and Will Smith withdrawn from the side in order to play first grade but Garth Brennan regained the services of captain Tupou Sopoaga and Sam Anderson in a side forced to play several players out of position.
Mounties by comparison were largely intact with just two changes with David Cahalane and Clay Priest replaced by Steven Tavita and Sonny Bristow respectively.
The competition leaders got off to a great start scoring in the 6th minute after a quick shift right allowed Josh McCrone to create the overlap required to free up Bill Tupou to score in the right corner to lead 4-0.
Mounties quickly begun to assert themselves in attack and looked set to score on numerous occasions but the Panthers were more than up for the challenge in defence. However Mounties’ persistence eventually paid off in the 25th minute when Robert Jennings was left floundering after dropping the Mitch Cornish cross field kick, resulting in a try to Mitch Barnett, duly converted by Cornish to give his side a ten point gap.
As they have done in recent weeks, the Panthers started to click late in the first half. A 40/20 kick from Sam Scarlett into the wind, allowed the Panthers to open their account after Brendan Attwood scored an individual try from 10 metres out in the 29th minute.
Penrith started to get a flow on in possession and levelled the scores on the stroke of half time after a quick shift left allowed Robert Jennings to accelerate, step back inside and force his way over for his second try at this level.
Once play resumed in the second half after a temporary suspension in play, the game quickly settled into an arm wrestle with both sides looking to kick deep and hoping to force an error from the kick-chase.
The defining moment of the game came in the 53rd minute when Bill Tupou was crunched in a tackle from Murdoch-Masila close to his own line, with the loose ball pounced upon by his opposite winger, Tom Eisenhuth, who had the presence of mind to quickly regather and dive over in the corner to put Penrith in the lead for the first time in this clash.
Mounties dominated field territory on the back of several penalties but were denied repeatedly by resolute Penrith defence, before a crucial penalty to the Panthers in the 73rd minute allowed Katoa to kick the match-winning penalty goal.
Given next weekend is representative round, Penrith will play the Wentworthville Magpies at Ringrose Park, the following Sunday on 10 May at 3pm, while Mounties will be keen to atone when they return home to face the Canterbury Bulldogs.
Penrith 16 (Brendan Attwood, Robert Jennings, Tom Eisenhuth tries; Sione Katoa 2 goals) bt Mounties 10 (Bill Tupou, Mitch Barnett tries; Mitch Cornish 1 goal)