A knee injury to Viliame Kikau marred a 28-8 trial win by the Panthers against South Sydney Rabbitohs at Redfern Oval on Saturday.
The second-rower was assisted off the field in the 3rd minute after suffering what is suspected to be a medial ligament injury.
Despite the early setback, the Panthers ran away with a comprehensive win as Sione Katoa, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Tyrone May, Paea Pua and Brent Naden all crossed the line.
Dylan Edwards made a successful return from injury, producing a solid 40-minute stint at fullback, while Hame Sele’s Panthers debut was one to remember, terrorising the Rabbitohs through the middle of the park.
Sione Katoa scooted over from close range for the opening try after a charge down by Reagan Campbell-Gillard and a forced dropout from James Maloney. Maloney added the goal to give the Panthers a six-point lead in as many minutes.
The Rabbitohs almost responded in the 11th minute when Dean Hawkins sent a deft grubber to the in-goal with teammates racing through, but Dylan Edwards rushed across in cover defence to save the Panthers.
OAK Plus Post Game: James Maloney
The Panthers then marched upfield where James Maloney’s cross-field bomb was batted back by Waqa Blake to Jarome Luai, who sent Reagan Campbell-Gillard over the try line. Maloney was successful with the boot, making it 12-0 after 15 minutes.
Rabbitohs prop Mark Nicholls almost crashed over on the stroke of quarter-time, but Isaah Yeo and Moses Leota combined in a brilliant goal-line, try-saving tackle to maintain the Panthers’ 12-point lead.
After absorbing consecutive sets on their own goal-line, the Panthers regained the football in the 29th minute when Maloney’s short drop out and Edwards’ desperate chase forced an error by the Rabbitohs.
However, the Rabbitohs scored a scrappy first try in the 33rd minute after John Sutton’s improvised bomb was fumbled before being toed through to the in-goal where Jacob Gagan pounced. The conversion struck the upright and it remained 12-4.
Cleary optimistic about injured Kikau
On the back of a penalty, Gagan bagged his double in the 39th minute at the end of a slick backline play orchestrated by Cody Walker.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 12 – RABBITOHS 8
A scrappy third quarter did not produce points until the 59th minute when Tyrone May latched onto a Jed Cartwright offload to score. Cartwright added the goal to stretch the Panthers lead to 10 points.
The Panthers then put the game to bed in the 66th minute when Wayde Egan dribbled the ball into the in-goal and Paea Pua rushed through to plant the ball down inches from the dead ball line. Cartwright’s conversion made it 24-8.
Match Highlights: Panthers v Rabbitohs
An error by the Panthers deep in their own half gave the Rabbitohs an opportunity in the 71st minute, but it was quashed when Tyrone Phillips intercepted a dangerous cut out pass.
The Panthers then put the icing on a big win in the 77th minute when the ball was shifted to Brent Naden, who went over the top of a few Rabbitohs defenders to score. Luai was unable to convert, and it ended in a 20-point win for the Panthers.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 28 – RABBITOHS 8
First-Half Line-Up: 1. Edwards, 2. M Watene-Zelezniak, 3. Blake, 4. Fuimaono, 5. Mansour, 6. Luai, 7. Maloney (May 30’), 8. Campbell-Gillard (Grant 20’), 9. Katoa (Egan 20’), 10. Leota (Ellis 20’), 11. Yeo, 12. Kikau (Martin 3’), 13. Sele
Third-Quarter Line-Up: 18. Aekins, 2. M Watene-Zelezniak, 11. Johns, 19. Phillips, 28. Too, 14. May, 3. Coleman, 8. Campbell-Gillard, 9. Katoa, 10. Leota (Grant 55’), 20. Cartwright, 4. Fuimaono, 21. Martin
Fourth-Quarter Line-Up: 18. Aekins, 19. Phillips, 11. Johns, 27. Naden, 28. Too, 14. May (Coleman 70’), 6. Luai, 20. Pua, 15. Egan, 23. Lui-Toso, 20. Cartwright, 17. Ellis, 13. Sele