The Penrith Panthers have ended a four-game losing streak to outclass the Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles 28-12 in what has been dubbed the “Great Western” Derby.
The late inclusion of Te Maire Martin, fully recovered from a neck injury that has kept him out of the NRL side’s last two losses, alongside Darren Nicholls, who started from the bench to accommodate the Kiwi international’s inclusion, proved to be the difference as both halves had a hand in five of Penrith’s six tries.
Poor goal kicking from the Panthers duo of Dylan Edwards and Nicholls kept Blacktown in the game but the away team’s six-tries-to-three performances proved too much for the home side to overcome in the end.
Blacktown came into the game unchanged from the side announced mid-week by coach Chad Randall.
But Penrith, apart from the inclusion of Martin, called upon Moses Leota to replace injured prop, Sitaleki Akauola, while Junior Kiwi prop, Cowen Epere was given an Intrust Super Premiership NSW debut, replacing Viliame Kikau.
Martin stamped his authority on the game early on setting up Penrith’s 12-0 lead inside the opening 20 minutes, having a hand in both tries.
The half had the vision to find an unmarked winger Lachlan Stein with a brilliant cut-out pass to score after five minutes before putting a kick that placed too much pressure on the Blacktown Workers outside backs, enabling Samisoni Langi to regather and put Jack Hetherington in for the easiest of tries.
Blacktown, to their credit, worked their way back into game just when Penrith looked certain to score their third try when a wayward cut-out pass landed in the hands of the winger Viliami Kaveiniga, who streaked 90 metres downfield before he was rounded up by the cover defence.
A penalty ensued and a couple of plays later, hooker Joey Lussick scored from close range to reduce the gap to eight points after 28 minutes.
Blacktown made good of their dominance over the next five minutes, scoring again to trail 12-8 after a fine shift left that saw fullback Matthew Wright’s cut-out pass find his winger Peter Schuster to score in the left corner.
But just as the home side was finally starting to dictate the terms, Penrith steadied on the stroke of half-time, working play inside the Blacktown Workers’ 20-metre zone before a well-worked play on the last saw Nicholls, who only had just come onto the field moments earlier replacing an ill-stricken Mitch Rein, combine with Michael Oldfield to put winger Christian Crichton over in the right corner to push the lead back out to 16-8 at the break.
Penrith as they did in the first half scored early points in the second when Langi scored out wide after some good lead-up work from Nicholls and Edwards to extend the lead further to 12.
Blacktown weren’t going to die wondering, however, when a long line-break form Pita Godinet, who was easily one of the home side’s most dangerous players along with halves partner Cameron Cullen, allowed play to shift across the field. Jonathon Wright then took an inside pass from Schuster to bridge the gap to eight, with more than 30 minutes remaining.
The game developed into an arm wrestle with Penrith in particular unable to convert opportunities into points. But a decision by referee Todd Smith to sin-bin Matthew Wright mid-way through the second half proved critical as the Panthers scored again through Stein to push the lead back out to two converted tries.
Blacktown never stopped trying but the game was finally put to bed with five minutes remaining when a kick close to the line rebounded back into the hands of Crichton, who this time turned provider to put his centre partner Oldfield in for the try that would seal a much-needed victory for the Panthers.
The win now sees Penrith move up to fifth place as they prepare to take on the formidable New Zealand Warriors in a fortnight’s time while the loss means bottom-placed Blacktown Workers will be looking to regroup quickly when they travel to the Central Coast to take on league-leaders, Wyong.
Penrith Panthers 28 (L Stein 2, J Hetherington, M Oldfield, C Crichton, S Langi tries; D Edwards 2 goals) def Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles 12 (J Lussick, P Schuster, J Wright tries)