Peter Wallace’s Penrith Panthers have beaten the North Sydney Bears for the third time in 2022, winning the first round of the NSW Cup finals series 22-14 at St Marys Leagues Stadium on Saturday.
Led by courageous captain Alec Susino who battled a nasty nose injury and a serious head-knock, the Panthers remained disciplined and structured despite fielding a relatively new team who have little experience playing together.
The Bears got off to an ideal start, with Sandon Smith sending second-rower Siua Wong through a gap in the Panthers line. Wong leaped over the last line of defence before crashing down over the try-line to claim the opening four-pointer. North Sydney centre Adam Keighran converted the try to extend the Bears’ lead.
A bit of razzle dazzle from halfback Isaiah Katoa gave Penrith the chance to level the scores in the 12th minute, when the NSW Cup debutant stepped off his right foot, then his left to confuse the defence before slamming the ball down. Niwhai Puru kicked the conversion from medium range to make it six-apiece.
After receiving numerous penalties in their attacking half, the Panthers capitalised on another creative play by Katoa. Taking on the line the 18-year-old flicked a pass to Isaiah Iongi who kept the ball alive on the right edge to send Logan Dickson over in the corner. Puru slotted the conversion from touch to give Penrith the lead.
Under torrential rain Katoa kicked a bomb that was batted backwards by his SG Ball championship winning teammate Sam Lane. With wet conditions making it difficult to catch, Dickson juggled the ball between his hands before racing away to slide over for his second try in 11 minutes. Puru’s conversion attempt waved away, leaving the score at 16-6.
Bears winger Tom Carr struggled to hold onto the wet ball as North Sydney looked to score off an overlap on the right edge. Getting the ball back off a one-on-one strip, another try-scoring attempt by the visitors was grounded short of the line just before the siren
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 16 - BEARS 6
Seven minutes into the second half, North Sydney five-eighth Kieran Hayman made the most of the repeat sets awarded the Bears, taking on the Panthers defensive line to muscle his way onto the scoreboard. Keighran failed to kick the two-pointer for long-range leaving the margin at six.
An incredibly smart play from Katoa gave the Panthers another try in the 56th minute, as the halfback stopped in the middle of the field to confuse the defence before putting on some fancy footwork to split the line. The Dolphins-bound junior then flicked a pass to Lane who claimed his first try on NSW Cup debut. Puru added the extras to extend Penrith’s lead to 12.
After plying at the try line all day, Keighran finally was awarded a four-pointer in the 63rd after the in-goal touch judge ruled that he grounded the ball through a one-on-one tackle conducted by Katoa. The centre couldn’t convert his own try as the Bears trailed by eight.
Valiant defence from John Faiumu and Jarrod Brackenhofer shut down North Sydney’s final attempt to get back into the game, forcing lock Renouf Atoni to knock the ball on as he attempted the ground it.
Daeon Amituanai was sent to the sin-bin in the final minute of play for a professional foul, but his absence made no difference in the end result.
Penrith Panthers will now face the Newtown Jets at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium next Saturday in the grand-final qualifier.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 22 - BEARS 14