The Penrith Panthers NYC side are into the Grand Final after dispatching New Zealand Warriors 50-16 at Suncorp Stadium on Friday.
SEE THE BEST SNAPS FROM THE GAME HERE: http://bit.ly/PrelimFinalGallery
After a tight and torrid first half, the Panthers ran away with the game in the second stanza as their physical defence repelled the best the Warriors could throw at them, and their attack piled on the points.
The Warriors went into preliminary final unchanged but Penrith coach Cameron Ciraldo was delighted to welcome back a big name in the backline. After two months out with a torn hamstring, Robert Jennings was a late inclusion in the centres for the Panthers. His return pushed Corey Harawira into the back row and Paea Pua onto the bench.
On the back of the first penalty of the game, the Warriors struck after five minutes. Simple hands to the right edge saw centre Marata Niukore dive over in the corner. The attempted conversion from Ata Hingano was waved away but the Warriors led 4-0.
It wasn’t long before the Panthers hit back. From a quick play the ball close to the line, hooker Soni Luke spotted half an opening and crashed through from dummy half. Reed Izzard slotted the conversion to give Penrith a 6-4 lead in the 11th minute.
From their next possession a perfectly-weighted grubber from Luke earned a repeat set and Penrith went right back on the attack. However Jennings lost the ball in contact and the chance for more points went begging.
The Warriors bombed a golden opportunity of their own in the 19th minute. A rampaging Ofahiki Ogden broke through and was destined for the tryline but instead tried the flick to Paul Ulberg on his outside. The winger couldn’t handle the pass and the ball went to ground.
In the 24th minute, on the back of more repeat sets, a James Fisher-Harris offload saw Brent Naden pull off an audacious flick pass behind his back. Centre Maliko Filino drew the man perfectly and put winger Fuimanu Enese over for the try. Izzard’s attempted conversion hit the post but the Panthers led 10-4.
An error on the fifth tackle saw put the Warriors back on the attack soon after. However winger Dylan Edwards pulled off a one-on-one try saver and the Panthers scrambled beautifully to repel the Kiwis’ efforts to score.
Penrith continued their strong defensive efforts at the other end of the field and a powerful tackle on Warriors winger Tomas Aoake saw the ball pop out. Edwards capped off a stellar couple of minutes to scoop it up and streak away to score untouched. Izzard’s conversion attempt sailed past the right-hand upright, leaving the score 14-4 in the 32nd minute.
Enese was the next man to pull off a try-saver, intercepting the last pass as the Warriors broke clean through two minutes later. More desperate defence was required and only just managed to hold out the Kiwis as they pressed hard to reduce the Panthers’ lead before the break.
HALFTIME – Panthers 14-4
It was the perfect start to the second half for the Panthers as they scored from their first set. After rolling down the field, Naden reeled in a Luai bomb on the fifth tackle and sent Jennings over the tryline. Edwards slotted the conversion for a 20-4 lead.
However the Warriors hit straight back in the 45th minute with a succession of offloads close to the Panthers’ line eventually sending backrower Jazz Tevaga over for the try. Hingano knocked the conversion over to reduce Penrith’s lead to ten points.
Panthers impact forward Thomson Tuigamala earned a vital turnover with a huge hit on Tevaga. From the ensuing possession Kaide Ellis showed strength and desperation to spin out of a three-man tackle and plant the ball down beside the posts. Edwards’ conversion made the score 26-10 in the 52nd minute.
The Panthers were winning the game with their defence as dangerous Warriors attacks were repelled with physical tackles. Penrith then gave themselves more breathing room in the 58th minute as a smart short ball from Tyrone May on the last tackle put Harawira-Naera through a yawning gap to score. The simple conversion from Edwards pushed the score out to 32-10.
The party tricks began to emerge in the 65th minute as Harawira-Naera offloaded in the tackle for Jennings, who in turn found May with an offload of his own. The makeshift playmaker touched down and the try was converted for a 38-10 lead.
Edwards added a second try to his stellar game after taking a clean intercept in the 69th minute and racing away on a 75-metre run to score. He converted his own try to make the score 44-10.
The Warriors weren't going to die wondering and the Panthers' defensive line finally cracked as Aoake dived over in the corner in the 73rd minute. The conversion was well-struck from out wide to put some more respectability on the scoreboard, 44-16.
Four minutes later the Panthers were awarded a penalty try as Jake Ennis pulled in and grounded a Luai grubber, despite being held back by the defender. Edwards nailed the conversion from directly in front.
FULLTIME - Panthers 50-16