The Minor Premiers of 2015, Mounties, have begun the 2016 Intrust Super Premiership NSW in the finest fashion, accounting for Penrith 26-24 – and exorcising their finals demons from last season – in sweltering summer conditions at GIO Stadium, Canberra.
On a 30-degree-plus day more suited to beachgoers, boaties and ice-cream enthusiasts, both sides put on a determined and disciplined display of football – particularly so in the first week of competition – but it was Mounties’ big men who proved the difference.
Forwards Luke Bateman, Mitch Barnett and Jarrad Kennedy, in particular, proved too tenacious for a Panthers side keen to impress new coach Steve Georgallis. Fullback Zach Santo and centre Benko Lee were also a handful, in a promising first outing for the men from Mount Pritchard. The news for Penrith fans, however, isn’t all bad – playmaker Te Maire Martin, in his first outing for the Panthers since moving from the Wests Tigers, once again marked himself as an NRL star of the future.
The match see-sawed for the majority, before some short passing and powerful running from Mounties late in the second half cracked the men from the mountains, with lock-forward Joe Tapine benefitting from a sublime at-the-line pass from the home side’s halfback Harry Siejka.
The scoring opened in the 10th minute of play when three consecutive penalties resulted in great field position for the Panthers – and, ultimately, a try to Maliko Filino. A pinpoint cross-field kick from five-eighth Martin proved too much for Mounties winger Kato Ottio, with Filino the beneficiary.
Mounties hit back just a few minutes later when beautiful lead-up work and a slick right-to-left shift saw a looping Santo run find a perfectly timed pop from Kennedy.
The Panthers returned serve when Mounties’ sliding left-side defence couldn’t cope with a spread of the ball and a dummy from Andrew Heffernan close to their line. They repeated the dose soon after with a great solo effort from Martin close to the line, that saw him step, weave and jink past a number of defenders, further extend their lead.
Imposing Mounties centre Lee brought Mounties back into the contest with an effort that highlighted his undoubted potential. The burly Raiders-contracted outside back showed great agility and balance to swerve, roll and bamboozle his way into the in-goal area to cut the deficit to six.
Lee continued his good work with a drawn penalty that put his side on the attack in the shadows of halftime. With both sides desperate for a drink in the balmy conditions and with just seconds remaining before the break, Mounties playmaker Harry Siejka and last year’s Intrust Super Premiership Player of the Year Mitch Barnett linked in the south-east corner of GIO Stadium, sending Santo over for his second. The passage of play was arguably the most important in the game – it brought the home side back into the contest and ultimately changed the course of the match.
Penrith five-eighth Martin crossed for his second try five minutes into the second half when a spin and a feign of a pass, coupled with a show and go and a great show of strength, saw him cross the chalk.
Despite a late try to Penrith second-rower Chris Smith, Mounties’ late charge couldn’t be matched. Both sides, though, will benefit from the hit-out – and both, most judges predict, will be thereabouts come Intrust Super Premiership NSW finals time.
Mounties forward Clay Priest, however, may find himself under the judiciary’s microscope for a raised forearm to the head of Zach Docker-Clay 15 minutes into the second half.