Panthers brush aside Illawarra

The Panthers remain unbeaten heading into the final round of the 2018 SG Ball Cup following a comprehensive 42-18 smashing of Illawarra Steelers at Panthers Stadium on Saturday.

Stephen Crichton and Hayden Bonnano starred for the Panthers with two tries each, while Ethan Clark-Wood, Matthew Faauila, Chase Chapman and Charlie Staines were also on the score sheet in a convincing win by Penrith.

The Panthers got off to a perfect start when a towering bomb by halfback Hayden Bonnano was allowed to bounce, and centre Stephen Crichton rose above the pack to pluck the ball from the air and cross the line. Crichton added the extras to extend the Panthers lead to 6-0 after 3 minutes.

The Steelers responded in the 8th minute however, when winger Tyrone Harding latched onto a cross-field punt and touched down in the corner. Halfback Jayden Sullivan’s sideline conversion was successful via the upright as the Steelers drew level.

Ethan Clark-Wood’s successful transition into the forwards produced another highlight in the 15th minute when the centre-turned-second-rower blitzed the Steelers’ edge defence and fooled Illawarra fullback Matthew Feagai with a terrific sidestep to stroll over the try line. Crichton’s conversion put the Panthers ahead 12-6.

A Steelers penalty allowed the Panthers to march into dangerous territory in the 21st minute, and the hosts took advantage as five-eighth Matt Burton caught Illawarra short of numbers on the short side and Crichton in for his second with a blistering cutout pass. The score remained 16-6 as Crichton’s conversion attempt waved away.

As the Panthers set up a backline play deep inside the Steelers half, Sullivan took an intercept and dashed 90 metres to score for Illawarra against the run of play. Sullivan then converted to close the gap to 16-12 after 27 minutes.

The high-scoring first half continued to deliver points as Panthers centre Matthew Faauila cut inside from a backline play and powered through the Steelers disjointed goal line defence to plant the ball down in the 30th minute. Crichton kicked the goal to stretch the Panthers lead to 22-12.

The Panthers added a fifth try to their tally on the stroke of halftime when hooker Maurice Trindall toed the football in behind the Steelers defence and into the in goal, where halfback Hayden Bonnano pounced to score. Crichton converted over the siren to send the Panthers into the sheds with a 28-12 lead.

HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 28-12 STEELERS

After the Panthers goal line defence held firm for extensive periods early in the second half, the Steelers eventually closed the gap on Penrith in the 46th minute when second rower Hudson Spicer busted through, with Sullivan’s conversion making it a 10-point ball game.

The Panthers earned some breathing space in the 55th minute in spectacular fashion when Bonanno sent a grubber to the in goal, and Chase Chapman flew through and dived on the football just millimetres away from the dead ball line. Crichton converted to put the Panthers ahead 34-18.

The Panthers then put the game to bed in the 58th minute when five-eighth Matt Burton sliced through the Steelers defence and found fullback Charlie Staines in support, who streaked away and scored out wide. Crichton struck the post as the score remained 38-18.

Bonnano put the icing on the cake in the 67th minute, poking his nose through a gap in the Steelers goal line defence to burrow his way over the try line. Crichton’s conversion attempt narrowly missed, with the score remaining 42-18.

The Steelers searched desperately for a late try to add some respectability to the scoreboard, but were denied by the Panthers relentless goal line defence as the hosts came away with a 24-point victory.

FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 42-18 STEELERS