Penrith Panthers have secured a spot in the 2022 NSW Cup Grand Final after defeating the Newtown Jets 28-18 in exhilarating battle at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on Saturday.
After the Jets claimed the minor premiership by a single competition point, Peter Wallace’s side, full of fresh NRL debutants, took to the field with a point to prove.
Both Robert Jennings and Sunia Turuva bagged doubles while Sean O’Sullivan created several attacking plays that helped the Panthers secure points on the scoreboard.
The Panthers spent the opening 10 minutes defending their line after Newtown were granted repeat sets as a result of Eddie Blacker being placed on report and J’maine Hopgood knocking the ball on. Christian Crichton’s try-saving play gave the Jets possession again off a goal-line dropout but the pressure was relieved for Penrith when fullback Kade Dykes spilt the ball.
In one of their first attacking half opportunities, the Panthers forced Newtown to concede a drop-out. With the low kick bouncing across the field and into the hands of Robert Jennings, who dropped to his knees to gather the ball, the centre created something from nothing, running straight through the line to score untouched. Kurt Falls couldn’t convert the opening try from long-range.
Jets winger Matt Ikuvalu was helped from the field minutes later after suffering what looked like knee injury courtesy of a Thomas Jenkins tackle, but after failing his HIA was ruled out from the game.
Panthers second-rower Preston Riki was sent to the sin-bin in the 25th minute after the referee deemed his tackle a professional foul. The 24-year-old was booed off the field by Jets fans, who weren’t happy with the time it took the Warriors junior to vacate the field.
Newtown made the most of the one-man advantage a minute later when Dykes streamed through a gap in the line to score. Mawene Hiroti converted the try, putting his team ahead on the scoreboard.
Jennings diffused a high-pressure defensive situation by stripping the ball as the Jets attempted to extend their lead. The Dolphins-bound centre ran more than 30 metres to get out of trouble.
Later in the set, a beautiful kick by Charlie Staines sat up perfectly into the hands of returning five-eighth Sean O’Sullivan who grounded the ball to claim four points for Penrith. Falls added the extras to put the Panthers back in-front.
Kayal Iro evaded the Panthers defence to thump the ball down on the try-line in the 36th minute and Hiroti converted the try to put Newtown ahead on the scoreboard once more.
In the final minute of the opening half Staines delivered Sunia Turuva a no-look cut-out-ball to send him over for a four-pointer on the left wing. Falls’ conversion bounced off the upright after the siren.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 14 - JETS 12
After receiving a penalty off the restart, Penrith charged upfield into their attacking half, where they were granted a repeat set. Hooker Soni Luke came up with a play that saw Jennings bag a double on the right edge. Falls started his second-half strong, converting the try to make the score 20-12.
A line-break from Lindsay Smith saw Penrith gain significant ground before Staines was bought down and Dykes was sent to the sin-bin for a professional foul, handing Penrith a one-man advantage.
Nineteen-year-old Jack Cole, who made his NRL debut last week, flicked a pass to Turuva while engaging the defensive line, opening up space on the left edge to send his winger over for a double. Falls’ conversion fell short as the Panthers maintained a steady lead.
Jets prop Thomas Hazelton spun around in the line to draw in the Panthers defence before putting Vincent Rennie over unmarked. Hiroti kicked the two-pointer to bring Newtown within six.
Incredible chase-down defence from Turuva forced the Jets to concede a goal-line dropout, which they kicked less than 10 metres, awarding Penrith a penalty in-front. Opting for the goal, Falls put the Panthers eight points clear with less than 10 minutes remaining of the game.
A penalty for offside was awarded to the Panthers in the final minute and Falls kicked the goal to give Penrith a 10-point victory.
Wallace’s Panthers will now enjoy a week off before playing in the NSW Cup decider on Sunday 25 September at CommBank Stadium.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 28 - JETS 18