Penrith Panthers have secured a place in the Jersey Flegg Cup decider after conquering minor premiers Sydney Roosters 27-22 in the Preliminary Final at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday.
The triumph sets up a blockbuster weekend for the Panthers with the NRL side contesting a Preliminary Final at Accor Stadium next Saturday night, before the Jersey Flegg and NSW Cup sides play in their respective Grand Finals at CommBank Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Isaiya Katoa had the ball on a string throughout the game, establishing a commanding on-field presence that wreaked havoc for the Roosters defensive game. A field-goal and a penalty awarded to the halfback in the final minutes of the game helped the mountain men march into the Grand Final.
In the early stages, the Panthers starved the Roosters of possession. Katoa’s brilliant playmaking skills caused problems for the Roosters, who coughed up the ball on numerous occasions, awarding Penrith the chance to strike first.
Off the back of a scrum, fullback Liam Ison flicked winger Cody Lawson a cut-out ball to send him over in the corner for the first try of the game in the third minute. Niwhai Puru’s conversion struck the upright, leaving the Panthers with a four-point advantage.
A superb kick from Katoa forced the Roosters to concede a goal-line dropout four minutes later, handing Penrith possession once more. In a play that mirrored the first try of the game, Puru sent winger Daeon Amituanai over on the left edge to extend the Panthers lead to eight. Having more luck from the opposite sideline, the five-eighth converted the try to make the margin 10.
Nine minutes later, Ryley Smith opted to pass right off dummy-half to Liam Ison. The fullback stepped off his right foot, opening a hole in the Roosters defence before barging over the line for Penrith’s third try of the half. Puru added the extras to give the visitors as 16-point lead.
In the 33rd minute Roosters hooker Thomas Deakin delivered interchange forward Corey Ross a lovely short-ball from dummy-half, allowing him to crash over under the posts for Sydney’s opening try. Vaiala Tamati kicked the conversion from in-front reducing the margin to 10.
Just before the half-time siren, the Panthers were awarded a penalty for a high-tackle. Puru kicked the penalty goal from 32 metres to put Penrith ahead by two converted tries at the break.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 18 - ROOSTERS 6
The Roosters were first to score after the break through fullback Ethan King, whose fancy footwork split the Panthers defensive line. Ison successfully ankle-tapped his opposing number one, but King’s momentum carried him over. Tamati converted the try to make it a six-point ball game.
After Roosters halfback Luke Knight kicked the ball out on the full within 30 metres of their try-line, Penrith used the opportunity to march downfield. A Puru pass sent Harrison Hassett through the line before the second-rower kicked a grubber that Tamati grounded in-goal.
Off the drop-out the Panthers spread the ball across the field. With an Ison offload falling in the hands of Katoa who sent Sunita Lotoaniu over undefended in the exact same place that Sydney claimed their opening try. Purumade it 24-12 in the 53rd minute.
As the game was drawing to a close, Katoa lined up a field-goal from the 30-metre line and pulled the trigger. While the ball sailed through the uprights, the halfback was taken out and Penrith were given the chance to kick a penalty goal on top of the field goal scored. Puru made it 27-12 in the 62nd minute to give the Panthers a handy lead.
Two late tries scored by Roosters second-rower Riley Meyn off a kick and chase and centre Vaiala Tamati through a left edge overlap weren’t enough to keep their season alive, with the tri-colours waiving their rights to a conversion in the final 20 seconds.
The Panthers will now take on the Newcastle Knights at CommBank Stadium on Sunday 25 September for a chance to claim the Jersey Flegg Cup Premiership.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 27 - ROOSTERS 22