In a game dominated by missed opportunities, Penrith Panthers slipped to a 19-12 defeat to St George-Illawarra Dragons at WIN Stadium.
The game was locked up at 10-all at halftime, but the Dragons prevailed in the second half with just a touch more class, and luck, in the key moments.
Isaac John dropped out of the squad with Tyrone Peachey taking his spot in the halves, at least on paper, while Sika Manu was promoted to the starting back row.
On the back of a simple Penrith error in the opening minutes, the Dragons had the first real attacking opportunity but winger Dylan Farrell couldn’t handle Gareth Widdop’s final pass.
Eight minutes in, Manu was penalised for staying too long in the tackle and the Dragons opted to take the easy two points on offer. Widdop did the honours for a 2-0 lead.
Coming out of trouble in the 12th minute, Lewis Brown was deemed to have lost possession despite Trent Merrin playing a crucial role in the ball coming loose. Only some scrambling Penrith defence managed to corral a flying Josh Dugan over the sideline.
However Bryce Cartwright made an unforced error in the next set and this time the Dragons took full advantage. Simple hands from right to left put centre Peter Mata’utia into a yawning gap for a 15th minute try. Widdop converted for an 8-0 lead.
The Panthers suffered a major blow not long after as skipper Elijah Taylor left the field, and the game, with a significant hand injury.
Cartwright looked a chance of making up for his error as he carried a short ball from Koroisau over the tryline in the 21st minute, however he couldn’t get to ground.
After forcing a goal-line dropout, a sneaky Jamie Soward chip over the top saw Tyson Frizzell put on report for deliberately tripping Will Smith.
Another penalty later, Soward spotted Farrell straying metres in-field and put in a deft kick for David Simmons. The veteran winger claimed the ball, stepped back on the inside and dived over for a 26th minute try. Soward slotted the conversion to make the score 8-6.
In the 31st minute Soward launched another kick to the wing of Simmons but after the ball was pinballed around, the video referee was called on and found Isaah Yeo had been held up.
Two minutes later the Panthers had their second try and the lead. Drawing three defenders, Brown unleashed an audacious flick pass to an unmarked Josh Mansour on his outside and the winger touched down in the corner. The conversion was waved away with the scoreboard reading 10-8 to Penrith.
Three minutes before the break Cartwright was penalised for a second effort on Widdop and the playmaker nailed the resulting penalty to lock the scores up.
Dragons halfback Benji Marshall attempted a field goal in the final seconds of the half but it was charged down by the defence.
HALFTIME – 10-10
A poor opening set immediately had the Panthers on the back foot until Marshall tossed an errant pass to a grateful Leilani Latu. Despite being in the clear, the prop couldn’t find the pace to make it to the distant tryline and the play broke down.
Penrith looked like breaking the deadlock in the 47th minute but Simmons was denied by some desperate Dragons defence.
Two minutes later Latu was tipped on his head by Dragons forward Jake Marketo and Soward claimed the two points to give the Panthers a 12-10 lead.
After an incisive break by Jack de Belin in the 54th minute, Manu was again pinged for holding down too long on Widdop and the Dragons levelled the scores.
With 20 minutes left in the contest Peachey broke into the clear, burned Dugan but was pulled down from behind. The Panthers threw themselves at the tryline and Segeyaro was held up, before another error unravelled their good work.
Fortunately for Penrith, the Dragons were just as willing to throw away valuable possession, highlighted when Marshall spiralled a long pass over the sideline in the 65th minute.
With 12 minutes to go the Dragons earned a repeat set as Smith was driven back in the tackle. It proved to be a critical moment as five tackles later, Marshall potted a 68th minute field goal for a 13-12 lead.
Suddenly St George-Illawarra were on song and they forced another dropout with a three-man tackle driving Mansour back into the in-goal. An error halted the Dragons’ next set prematurely but suddenly the momentum was all against the Panthers.
Even when they broke down field with five minutes to go, the referees somehow missed a Marshall knock-on which would have given the Panthers prime attacking possession.
St George-Illawarra instead sealed the result a minute later as Widdop grubbered for himself, scored, then converted his own try.
FULLTIME – Dragons 19-12