The Panthers were rewarded for their relentless goal-line defence in a 19-10 triumph over Sydney Roosters at Panthers Stadium on Sunday.
The attack of James Maloney and the defence of Nathan Cleary were vital to the victory, Penrith’s third in a row. Maloney assisted all three Panthers tries, and kicked a field goal and a 40/20, while Cleary saved two certain tries on either side of halftime.
Cleary’s efforts capped off an all-round brave defensive performance by the Panthers. They spent most of the first half defending their own line on the back of a lopsided penalty count but held their nerve to knock off the defending premiers.
Penrith’s back three of Dylan Edwards, Josh Mansour and Brian To’o were immense, combining for almost 600 running metres. Viliame Kikau scored a double, while Brent Naden bagged his first NRL try in front of 16,833 fans at Panthers Stadium.
The Panthers got off to the best possible start, scoring with their first possession. Viliame Kikau left Roosters defenders grasping at air when he charged onto a James Maloney inside ball and Nathan Cleary converted to put Penrith ahead 6-0 inside two minutes.
A chance to extend the lead went begging in the 6th minute. Dylan Edwards broke into the backfield after a Josh Mansour offload, but his pass to a supporting Nathan Cleary travelled forward.
A harsh strip penalty handed the Roosters an attacking opportunity, but it came to nothing as James Tedesco threw the ball into touch.
Joseph Manu looked certain to open the Roosters’ account in the 22nd minute, but Mansour, Edwards and Brent Naden combined to wrap up the centre.
The Roosters earned a repeat set shortly after, but Naden- who hurt himself in the tackle moments before- swooped on a short drop out to hand possession back to the Panthers.
The Panthers worked their way up the other end, but poor execution saw the opportunity go to waste.
A penalty carried the Roosters back into the red zone, and they were not so wasteful. Tedesco’s cut-out pass sent Tupou over, but Siosiua Taukeiaho’s missed conversion meant Penrith maintained the lead after 28 minutes.
The Panthers were on the ropes after copping four-consecutive penalties, and it felt like a matter of time before their incredible goal-line defence cracked. Instead, Isaah Yeo scooped up a loose ball and showed great speed to enter the Roosters’ half, putting Penrith on the counter.
It appeared the Panthers had gotten the ultimate reward for their defensive efforts in the 37th minute when Reagan Campbell-Gillard stormed onto a bullet Mitch Kenny pass, but Tedesco dislodged the ball over the line.
Taukeiaho had a chance to kick the Roosters level on the stroke of halftime after they were awarded their seventh penalty of the first half. However, he struck the upright, and the Panthers entered the sheds with a well-deserved lead.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 6 – ROOSTERS 4
A Panthers error just a few plays into the second half allowed the Roosters to pick up from where they left off. Brian To’o plucked out a bomb and set sail on an incredible run, only for the play to be pulled back by Ben Cummins. The referee ruled an escort by Isaah Yeo.
So the Roosters went at it again, but Nathan Cleary made sure they came up empty-handed again. Tupou had an open try line in front of him in the 43rd minute, but a determined Cleary rushed across to shove the flying winger into touch.
To’o weaved through several Roosters defenders and ran over the top of James Tedesco in a dazzling run to put the Panthers on the attack in the 47th minute. Then, a professional foul by Joseph Manu saw the Roosters get reduced to twelve men.
The Panthers quickly capitalised to stretch their lead. James Maloney’s clever kick over the top was batted back by Brent Naden to Viliame Kikau, who dived over in the corner. Nathan Cleary landed the crucial sideline conversion, putting the Panthers ahead 12-4 after 54 minutes.
Naden seemingly scored one for himself in the 55th minute after Wayde Egan went to the short side, but the Roosters scrambled to force an error.
The Roosters, with Manu still in the bin, marched upfield and narrowed the margin in a cruel blow to the Panthers. Nat Butcher hit a hole and sent Victor Radley found Victor Radley in support, trimming it back down to a two-point margin.
The persistent Panthers swiftly cancelled out Radley’s effort as Naden finally got his try in the 60th minute. James Maloney rolled it behind the Roosters’ defence and Naden rushed through to beat Tedesco to the ball, sending Panthers Stadium into raptures. Cleary’s third conversion made it 18-10.
A 40/20 by James Maloney in the 67th minute set up what appeared to be another Panthers try. Josh Mansour leaped for the corner after a Naden tap-on, but it was deemed forward.
Maloney put the icing on the result in the 77th minute, potting a field goal to bump the Panthers ahead 19-10.
The Roosters nearly set up a nervy finish when Victor Radley broke into the clear after the short kick-off. He set his sights on the corner, but Cleary raced across and rammed him into touch, putting a stamp on Penrith’s outstanding performance.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 19 – ROOSTERS 10