Penrith Panthers kicked off the 2023 Junior Representative season against the Illawarra Steelers at WIN Stadium on Sunday.
The SG Ball side recorded a thrilling victory, however the Harold Matthews and Tarsha Gale teams fell short.
Last-minute try sees SG Ball Panthers record thrilling win
Two late tries saw the Penrith Panthers open their SG Ball Cup season with a thrilling 16-14 over the Illawarra Steelers at WIN Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Trailing 14-6 with just over five minutes remaining, the Panthers overcame the heat and a tough Steelers defensive line to come away with the win.
It was a disastrous start for the Panthers, conceding the first try to Steelers centre Savelio Tamale after back-to-back sets within the opening five minutes.
It didn’t take long for the Panthers to build their way into the match, earning a repeat set after Illawarra fullback Wesley Pring put down a towering bomb. From the scrum, Panthers halfback and captain Luke Hanson darted over the line. Francis Manuleleua converted to give the visitors a 6-4 lead after 12 minutes.
The game quickly developed into a tough battle as both defences were put to work. The Panthers were next to crack in the 22nd minute, with Pring backing up a Steelers line break to score out wide. Taj Ford’s conversion gave the hosts a 10-6 lead.
Both teams had chances in the final five minutes of the first half, however neither were able to crack the opposition’s defence and the four-point margin remained at the break.
A towering bomb from the boot of Manuleleua forced a mistake by the Steelers and gave the Panthers a golden opportunity to level the scores shortly after the resumption. Hanson again darted over the line from the scrum, however the Steelers defence were able to hold him up.
The Panthers were able to force multiple repeat sets, however they were unable to crack the Illawarra line.
Poutoa Hotere-Papalii looked to have scored in the corner for the Panthers shortly after, only for the touch judge to rule that he stepped on the sideline in attempting to score.
The Panthers were reduced to 16 men with just over 15 minutes remaining when Manuleleua succumbed to an ankle injury. The Steelers sensed a weakness on the Panthers reshuffled left side, making a break, before Kyan Hjaltason dived over from dummy-half to push the margin beyond a converted try.
Dylan Egan looked to have crossed for another Steelers try with nine minutes remaining, only to be denied due to a forward pass. The near-miss spurred the Panthers on, coming agonisingly close to scoring a set later, but forcing a drop out in the process.
From the ensuing set, Cooper Ferrari crashed over out wide with five minutes remaining. Riley Pollard’s unsuccessful conversion attempt left the Panthers trailing 14-10.
Another strong set with the ball saw the Panthers advance downfield, with a perfect Hanson grubber giving the Panthers another repeat set.
With just 70 seconds on the clock, a barnstorming charge by prop Luron Patea saw him crash over alongside the posts. Five-eighth Riley Pollard made no mistake with the conversion after the siren, completing the 16-14 win.
- Lachlan Jeffery
Harrold Matthews Panthers fall short against Illawarra Steelers after tough battle
Penrith Panthers went down to the Illawarra Steelers 34-26 in a tight Round 1 contest on a warm Sunday morning at WIN Stadium.
Early in the game, the Steelers opted to go right for a short side raid. Harry Wililo bumped off a defender to score the first try of the game in the right-hand corner.
A well-weighted chip kick was pounced on by Hayden Buchanan to put the Steelers up 8-0 in the 10th minute.
Following a perfectly executed 40-20 by the Steelers, Tom Kirk stepped through a tired Panthers defence and slammed the ball down on the try line.
A great run by Heinz Lemoto gave the Panthers their first real attacking set of the half. Hokafonu Lemoto took full advantage, swatting away two attempted tackles to waltz over under the posts in the 21st minute.
Heinz Lemoto continued his strong form, beating a tackle with good footwork before drawing the Steelers winger and allowing Panther’s winger Jacob Kelly to stroll over untouched.
A brilliant show and go by Jaxen Edgar in the dying minutes of the first half fooled multiple defenders as he scored the Panthers 3rd try. A successful conversion meant the Panthers went into the sheds with all the momentum.
Early in the second half, a flat ball from the Steelers halfback found Charles Heidke, who ran a strong line and crashed over to score.
In the 38th minute, the Steelers broke away down the left-hand touchline, recollecting an infield grubber to cross for an excellent try.
The Panthers soon put on a short side special of their own, with a great offload providing Cooper Hale with some space, as he beat a defender to score in the right corner. Conversion from the sideline by Harrison Bull meant the score was level at 22 apiece with 14 minutes to go.
Another shift by the Panthers gave Edgar space, as he brushed off a tackle and stepped off his right foot to beat 3 covering defenders and put the Panthers in front.
Late in the game, a two-pass shift down the left-hand side put the Steelers into open pasture, and a simple draw and pass try to the winger meant they went up 28-26 with six minutes to go.
In the 56th minute, Steelers centre Buchanan beat two tackles and broke the Panthers defensive line, running 35 metres before passing to Kade Reed who finished off the play.
- Zach Lee
Panthers suffer big defeat to open Tarsha Gale season
Penrith Panthers have opened the Tarsha Gale Cup season with a heavy loss to the Illawarra Steelers at WIN Stadium.
The afternoon got off to a bad start for the Panthers, lining up to receive the kick-off at the wrong end of the ground. It didn’t improve much from there, unable to control the strong Steelers side, eventually falling 28-0.
It was a physical opening to the game, with the Panthers guilty of trying too hard in defence, conceding several penalties for high tackles. The Steelers quickly capitalised, scoring out wide through Sulieti Ahio, despite the valiant attempt of Panthers fullback Yasmine Baker to stop her.
A Panthers error midway through the half gave the Steelers more field position. It only took them one set to score again after Sienna Yeo grubbered for herself to score alongside the posts.
To add insult to injury, the Panthers lost backrower Clarissa Alderton to a knee injury in the process.
The Steelers had further opportunities to score off the back of Panthers errors, but were denied twice in short time, first through a great last-ditch tackle by Baker, then when they knocked on attempting to touch down.
Another penalty late in the half saw Montana McLean sin-binned for the Panthers, before a rare attacking chance was thwarted by the Steelers in the shadows of halftime.
Trailing 12-0, the Panthers hopes of getting back into the game were dealt a double blow within the first eight minutes of the second half, twice having their left-side defence stretched too far, with Illawarra centre Mia-Rose Walsh scoring a double.
Another injury in the process, this time suffered by Ila Fuimaono, saw the Panthers bench reduced to two for the final 20 minutes.
Fatigue began to set in for the Panthers in the final ten minutes as the warm conditions and injuries started to take their toll. Simple errors came into their game as Illawarra backrower Ella Koster broke through some tired defence to race away and score, taking the final score to 28-0.
- Lachlan Jeffery