The Penrith Panthers celebrated Nigel Plum’s milestone match in style with a bruising 24-10 victory over New Zealand Warriors at Pepper Stadium on Saturday.
As the veteran Penrith prop crossed off his 150th NRL game, the Panthers muscled up in defence and found some spark in attack as they snapped their five-game losing streak.
Panthers playmaker Isaac John was a late withdrawal after failing to fully recover from a ‘stinger’ suffered against the Eels, leaving the versatile Bryce Cartwright to step up in the halves.
Three minutes in Api Koroisau looked like he had made the most of his rare opportunity in the starting side as he cut back and crashed over the tryline. However the hooker lost the ball as attempted to plant it down.
Making another appearance in the centres, Lewis Brown didn’t make the same mistake in the 9th minute as he brushed off the attempted tackle of Dominique Peyroux and scored. Jamie Soward nailed the conversion for a 6-0 lead.
On the back of a penalty, Penrith went on the attack again and a glorious face ball from Koroisau sent Reagan Campbell-Gillard over from close range. The try, Campbell-Gillard’s first in the NRL, and Soward’s successful conversion gave the Panthers a 12-0 lead after 16 minutes.
From the Warriors’ next possession, Campbell-Gillard dropped Sam Rapira with a thunderous front-on hit. Somehow the referees not only found a penalty in the tackle but also put the young prop on report.
Through a combination of physicality and desperate scrambling, the Panthers held out a number of attacking sets as the big men of the Warriors began to work their way into the contest.
In the 27th minute Leilani Latu, fresh off the bench, earned Penrith a penalty right in front of the sticks and Soward duly converted for a 14-0 lead.
However New Zealand hit back four minutes later with a succession of slick passes and two neat offloads giving fullback Sam Tomkins a simple finish between the posts. Tuimoala Lolohea converted from directly in front to make the score 14-6.
The Warriors had their second try in the 34th minute off the back of some more improvised football and a cheeky grubber from Tomkins. Penrith’s Will Smith was too slow in coming across and Jonathan Wright kicked the loose ball for Konrad Hurrell to slide over. The conversion was waved away but the Panthers’ lead was down to four points.
However before the halftime siren could sound, Smith made up for his somewhat questionable defence with a scything 50m kick return. With the Warriors scrambling, the Panthers quickly spread the ball from the right wing to the left and Tyrone Peachey cut through for a morale-boosting try. Soward’s successful conversion re-established the ten point buffer.
HALFTIME – Panthers 20-10
Five minutes after the break some well-timed interplay between Peachey and Brown had the Panthers on the attack but the final pass was intercepted by Warriors hooker Nathan Friend.
Peachey cut through again two minutes later but as the utility forward reached out to score, the play was called back for an obstruction.
Making it a trifecta of linebreaks within a few minutes, it was incredibly Peachey who streaked away again. A tackle later, James Segeyaro put an intelligent chip out to the wing of David Simmons, who gathered and dived over in the corner for a 49th minute try. Soward missed the attempted conversion but the Panthers were out to 24-10 lead.
In the 53rd minute Latu strolled through a huge gap in the defence however his ball back on the inside to Smith was grassed under pressure. The video referee ruled no try but deemed the Warriors playmaker Lolohea had committed a tackle off the ball. Josh Mansour had a chance from the ensuing set but lost possession as he drove for the corner.
With 20 minutes left in the contest the Warriors earned a repeat set with some more offloads and improvised play. However the risky play didn’t earn a reward as the Panthers’ defensive line held firm.
In the 64th minute a deft Soward grubber had Brown diving for the ball in the in-goal but he fumbled as the Warriors’ Tomkins lashed out with the boot. This time the video referee found no foul play in the incident, to the surprise of the Penrith faithful.
As the rain began to tumble down, more handling errors crept into the contest, with both sides guilty of turning over cheap possession.
However as they had all night, the Panthers muscled up in defence when the Warriors sent their big men down the middle and held the line as the ball was tossed wide. Skipper Elijah Taylor led the way in typically gutsy style with more than 50 tackles to his name.
FULLTIME - Panthers 24-10