Penrith Panthers have gone back-to-back with an upset 20-6 win over defending premiers South Sydney Rabbitohs at Pepper Stadium on Friday.
A brave defensive effort in the first half and some flashes of attacking brilliance paved the way for Penrith’s first victory over the Bunnies since 2011.
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary sprung a late surprise with Sika Manu named on the wing for Josh Mansour, who missed out with knee soreness.
In the end Penrith took to the field as they had during Mansour’s earlier absences, with Waqa Blake shifting to the left wing and Isaah Yeo moving into the centres.
Off the back of early Panthers errors, Souths enjoyed multiple opportunities but surging Panthers defence on the right edge somehow managed to deny Bryson Goodwin.
The Panthers opened the scoring after ten minutes as Blake flew high over Joel Reddy to claim a Soward kick and laid the ball back for fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to dive over. The video referee ruled try despite Souths’ claims of a knock-on from Manu in the play. Peter Wallace missed the conversion from the sideline but Penrith led 4-0.
Watene-Zelezniak had the crowd on its feet as he darted over again only four minutes later but the play was called back and the Panthers penalised for obstruction.
The Panthers continued to punch holes through the middle but their attacking raids came to nought as the ball was spilled with misplaced passes.
It looked like they would pay for their errors as the Rabbitohs’ Tom Burgess made a massive break up the middle but Watene-Zelezniak stood his ground and somehow dragged the big man down.
From the next set the Panthers went the length of the field and found points running the ball on the last tackle. With space opening up around him, Bryce Cartwright broke through and quick hands on his outside sent a flying Dean Whare to the tryline. Soward missed the conversion this time but Penrith led 8-0 after 25 minutes.
Momentum began to swing back the way of the Rabbitohs as Penrith’s defence tired in the back end of the half. Scrambling goal-line defence first held up John Sutton, then denied Goodwin again after the centre claimed an Adam Reynolds bomb in the in-goal.
Somehow Souths went to the break without a try after Alex Johnston, filling in at fullback for the absent Greg Inglis, was deemed to have passed off the ground on the end of a surging break.
HALFTIME – Panthers 8-0
Penrith opened the second half with back-to-back sets on Souths’ line but couldn’t find a way through some staunch defence.
Finally, with the ball starting to be tossed around, it was an incisive grubber from Soward in the 50th minute which cracked the defensive line. Wallace showed a turn of speed and managed to ground the ball with his right hand. This time it was Api Koroisau’s turn to attempt the conversion and he slotted it for a 14-0 lead.
A Blake error invited Souths to respond almost immediately but Simmons pulled off a crucial intercept to deny the travelling side their first points.
A few minutes later it was Tyrone Peachey who turned defence into attack as he scooped up a Souths grubber and sprinted away. Despite being mowed down by Johnson, the Panthers earned a penalty and from the ensuing set, they had their try.
This time it was Blake who danced with the touchline and dived over in the left corner. Despite Koroisau’s failed conversion attempt, the Panthers had extended their lead to 18-0 after 61 minutes.
From the restart, Souths’ Dave Tyrell was knocked senseless and left the game on a stretcher after a sickening head clash attempting to make the tackle on Nigel Plum.
The minutes wore down as the Rabbitohs pushed hard for the try that would give them a faint sniff of getting back into the game.
Their forwards rumbled and the Penrith defence finally caved as a Reynolds kick over the top was expertly grounded by Reddy in the corner. The Souths playmaker then converted from the sideline to make it 18-6 with seven minutes left.
However a Koroisau penalty goal three minutes later pushed Penrith’s lead back beyond two converted tries, and the game beyond the reach of the defending premiers.
FULLTIME – Panthers 20-6