Penrith underlined their Intrust Super Premiership title credentials today in Auckland, with a hard-fought 14-10 win over the Warriors. The Panthers got the job done despite having to play an entire quarter of the match with only 12 players on the park.
The weather had been miserable in Auckland the night before and morning of the match, however the heavy rain had eased by the time kickoff rolled around. That was a relief to everyone in attendance, given that North Harbour Stadium was the scene of the almost biblical flood that occurred during the Warriors’ win over Newtown back in round eight
The Warriors, firmly entrenched in the middle of the ladder, named a mostly unchanged team from the one that was upset by Wentworthville last weekend. Francis Leger came into the centres in place of Anthony Gelling, who was called up for the Warriors’ NRL match against Brisbane. Likewise, the Panthers kept a similar side to the one that defeated St George Illawarra in round 17.
The slippery conditions meant both sides made a tentative start, and it took until 12 minutes in for the first real chance to emerge.
It came directly from difficult handling conditions, with a spilled Mason Lino bomb meaning that the Warriors were awarded a scrum 10 metres out from the Panthers’ line. A well-worked move gave Junior Paunga some space to power his way past the Panthers’ left edge defence, scoring in the corner. They should have had a couple more tries shortly after, but Charnze Niccol-Klokstad was penalised for taking out a defender while collecting another bomb, then Pauga lost the ball in a tackle close to the line.
The first half turned into a tight arm wrestle after the resumption of play, with both side hammering away in the middle of the park and testing each other with low, raking kicks.
The Panthers finally got a sustained period of attack with seven minutes to go in the half, when a Warriors’ knock on gifted them a repeat set on the tryline. Billy Burns ran a beautiful line to run onto an Adam Keighran short ball, and took a couple of defenders with him to score next to the posts. Keighran converted to give the Panthers the lead.
However, the Panthers found themselves down to 12 men straight off the kickoff when Corey Waddell was sin binned for a professional foul. An ensuing penalty gave Mason Lino an easy shot to level the scores, and the sides headed into the sheds locked at 6-6.
The rain came back as the second half kicked off, and King Vuniyayawa found himself on report after the first set for a dangerous lifting tackle. It took another 10 minutes for a chance to materialise, after the Panthers marched down the field and allowed Dean Blore to kick along the deck. The ball bounced off a couple of Warriors defenders and Blore swooped to score as it crossed the line.
The Panthers were once again reduced to 12 men when Mitchell Kenny was binned in the 56th minute. It didn’t take long for the Warriors to cash in, as Charnze Niccol-Klokstad stepped his way to score inside the corner post after a Lino cross kick. Lino couldn’t convert, but the 12-10 scoreline set up a tense final quarter.
Unfortunately, the handling errors were flowing like the rain now sweeping the field. Both sides were guilty of turning the ball over early in their sets, and play was confined to the middle of the park. The Panthers looked to have cracked with seven minutes remaining, dropping the ball to gift the Warriors 10 metres out from their line, but the home side couldn’t cash in.
From there the Panthers kept their nerve and won a crucial penalty close to the Warriors’ line. Keighran stepped up to slot the two points, but more importantly chew up almost all the remaining time on the clock.
The win keeps the Panthers at the top of the Intrust Super Premiership, they now sit on 27 points, three clear of second-placed Mounties. They should maintain that lead next weekend when they visit last-placed Newcastle. The Warriors are now in desperate need of a win, and will try and achieve that when they host Wyong back at Mt Smart Stadium.