Penrith Panthers put on a classy display of talent in their final game of the regular season, defeating the South Sydney Rabbitohs 42-10 at Ironmark High Performance Centre on Sunday afternoon.
Scoring six unanswered tries and winning the second half 26-0, Jono Rolfe’s team booked a ticket to the 2022 Jersey Flegg finals series in inspiring fashion, finishing the regular season with back-to-back victories.
After South Sydney kicked the ball out on the full, Penrith utilised the penalty and dominant field position to plot their attack. Hohepa Puru scooped the ball up from dummy half and looked left, finding a gap in the Rabbitohs line to send Sunita Lotoaniu over for the opening try. Keagan Russell-Smtih converted the try to give the visitors a six-point lead.
Russell-Smith created the spark again three minutes later, putting Sam Lane through a hole in the defence. Lane sprinted 20 metres before flicking a pass to winger Cody Lawson who finished the job in the corner. The SG Ball championship winning half converted the try to make it 12-0.
Granted repeat sets on their try-line, the Rabbitohs bagged their first four-pointer in the 13th minute when Taine Woodford reached out over Russell-Smith to put the ball down on the line. Tyrone Munro couldn’t convert the try, so the score remained 12-4.
Harrison Hassett was put on report for a high-tackle 18 minutes in to the opening half, after he challenged a ball mid-air and cleaned up Munro in the process.
Munro picked up a loose ball two minutes later before sprinting 80 metres to score beside the posts. The fullback converted his own try from the same position as his first conversion attempt to reduce the deficit to two.
A brilliant defensive effort from Lawson stopped the Rabbitohs from successfully kicking a 40/20 in the 29th minute. In the same set, the winger’s defensive efforts were rewarded with the chance to bag a double in the corner after a slick cut-out ball from Russell-Smith created a left edge overlap. Russell-Smith’s conversion waved away from touch.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 16 - RABBITOHS 10
The Panthers came out of the sheds with their foot on the accelerator. Making light work of the Rabbitohs defence two minutes into the second half after an offload from Mavrik Geyer found Puru in the line. Looking left to find a hole, Puru delivered a pin-point accurate pass to Ryley Smith who dived over untouched. Russell-Smith added the extras to extend the margin to 12.
Absorbing the pressure from defending four back-to-back sets on their line Smith stepped up to cause an error for South Sydney within 30 metres of the Panthers try-line. Later in the set Russell-Smith kicked a grubber behind the Rabbitohs line sat up perfectly in-goal for Ativalu Lisati to score. Russell Smith slotted the conversion from in-front to make it 28-10.
In the 52nd minute, a Russell-Smith kick landed on the chest of Jesse McLean, who beat off South Sydney winger Deijion Leugaimafa in the air for possession. McLean grounded the ball in the corner to claim another four-pointer for the visitors. Russell-Smith’s conversion waved to the left of the uprights.
A 66th minute offload from Lawson put Lane in the clear to extend the Panthers lead to 26-points but Russell-Smith’s conversion fell painfully short.
Jack Garrod scored his first try of the season in the final minute of the game to add another four-points to Penrith’s for-and-against.
The Panthers now enter a bye week, before heading into the Jersey Flegg finals series.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 42 - RABBITOHS 10