The Panthers were severely outmuscled in a disappointing 46-18 defeat to the Illawarra Cutters at WIN Stadium on Sunday.
Panthers Intrust Super Premiership NSW coach Steve Georgallis welcomed the experienced Elijah Taylor to his side, with Corey Harawira-Naera shifting to the centres and Wellington Albert joining the bench.
In the sixth minute Panthers playmaker Matt Place scooped up a Sam Clune grubber and with the Cutters defence wrong-footed, strolled over to score beside the posts. Josh Hall nailed the conversion for a 6-0 lead.
The Cutters hit back seven minutes later as the Panthers right-edge defence was found a man short and Illawarra winger Kalifa Faifailoa crossed in the corner. Shaun Nona’s sideline conversion locked the scores up.
However from the restart the Cutters immediately spilled the ball and Sitaleki Akauola swooped through at pace to claim possession, break clear and score. Hall’s conversion made it 12-6 in the 17th minute.
Illawarra hit straight back as this time the Panthers were found wanting on the left edge. On the end of some quick hands, Cutters winger Izacc Thompson got through an attempted tackle from Hall to dive over. Nona slotted the conversion from out wide to again level the scores in the 22nd minute.
The Cutters took the lead in the 29th minute as a ball back on the inside found Chris Lewis, who reached out to score the try despite the attention of two Panthers defenders. Nona’s attempted conversion rebounded off the upright to leave the match poised at 16-12.
Some desperate Panthers defence was required to deny Thompson a second try two minutes before the break. The Cutters thought they had scored beside the posts as the halftime siren sounded but the final pass was called forward.
HALFTIME – Cutters 16-12
Illawarra enjoyed the perfect start to the second stanza as a Drew Hutchison grubber fortuitously rebounded off a defender back into his hands, and the playmaker dived over for the try. The successful conversion made the score 22-12 in the 45th minute.
The Cutters were beginning to turn their physical dominance into points and on the back of a strong set, centre Taane Milne crossed out wide for a converted try and a 28-12 lead.
Fullback Adam Quinlan continued the carve-up as he made a mockery of the Panthers defence with some sidesteps and a turn of pace. Nona’s conversion made the score 34-12 in the 55th minute.
It got worse for the visitors as Lewis doubled his personal try tally two minutes later. With another conversion, the scoreboard was getting particularly ugly for the Panthers at 40-12.
Milne needed only a simple step off his right foot to score his second try for the day in the 65th minute. Nona slotted another conversion to make it 46-12.
The Panthers got a late consolation try as Moses Leota barged his way over from close range with two minutes left on the clock. Hall nailed the conversion to add a touch more respectability to the final scoreline.
FULLTIME - Cutters 46-18