Penrith do enough to beat Bunnies 26-22

Penrith Panthers win NRL Round 3 2008 against South SydneyThe Penrith Panthers have come out firing in their Round 3 NRL clash with the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Both sides winless this year and under pressure to perform, somebody knew the outcome – the bookmakers installing the Panthers at $1.50 favourites in a motion that had many scratching their heads.

The money rarely lies and certainly there will be a few people thinking that game fixing might be possible as the Panthers came out like a team possessed. Having the majority of the early possession, outside back Brad Tighe was the stand-out – getting a try-scoring double and regularly making it hard for his opposite to contain.

Jarrod Sammut has been heavily involved with some good touches and his kicking has been impressive today. Interestingly though, the usually focused South Sydney side look disinterested and very lethargic at times – their lack of focus costing them a benefit of the doubt try to Maurice Blair late in the first half. Sammut creating the opportunities through good kicking and nice vision. After this touch down it was 16-0 to Penrith.

Souths started to get some ball late in the half, but their discipline was unusually poor early on and compounded their early problems. The Bunnies continue to look wayward in attack, unsure what plays to run and broadcasting their intentions most times.

Souths did get on the board in the 32nd minute, a brain explosion from Luke Priddis gifting them the possession that eventually gave them a try. Priddis giving away the worst flop in recent memory, after the Panthers totally had the upper hand.

Talanoa scoring for Souths off a nice right side attacking movement and getting themselves back into the match at 16-6.

The confidence was short lived however, Adam Woolnough getting a try for Penrith at the other end after a soft miss from John Sutton. The Souths star not looking ideal at pivot and I think Jason Taylor may have reacted too heavily to Round 1 and 2 losses. Sutton is best as a running back rower on the fringe.

At half time it was 22-6, with Penrith enjoying just under 60% possession. Souths hoping the strong wind at their back and more ball in the second half can help them home.

The second half showed an immediately change in fortunes, Souths coming out the better and getting early rewards through John Sutton after a nice charge at the line from 7-8m out. Sutton beating a poor Maurice Blair attempted tackle to score and run around behind the posts. Sutton looking better a little wider off the ruck. 22-12 the score.

Penrith did their level best to give Souths the game, their usual string of penalties arriving to give their opposition plenty of ball.

The Panthers did get some breathing space after a penalty goal just before 50 minutes to take them to a 24-12 lead, still only 2 converted tries ahead of the Bunnies.

Penrith suddenly lifted with the introduction of Paul Aiton. The livewire hooker, wearing the head gear today and like he usually does, gives them so much spark and thrust from the play the ball. I don’t know why Matt Elliott doesn’t use Aiton in the run on side, he provides the team that X-Factor at the play the ball.

Things got a little ugly in the next 10 minutes, Penrith missing tackles and giving away more penalties and Souths were struggling with the loss of Issac Luke with a suspected broken hand and captain Roy Asotasi with severe concussion, both back in the dressing sheds as their team was trying desperately to hang in. The only good news for Souths was the breeze at their backs and the continued improvement in the second half of John Sutton, warming to pivot and running that bit wider to the line.

Souths still looked flat footed and unlikely to pierce in attack even after several repeat sets, Jason Taylor needs to drastically do something with their attack and fast. Luckily an unsuspecting grubber ahead from prop field Michael Greenfield ricocheted off the post pads and he was able to grab it himself to score – referee Tony De La Heras interestingly going to the video referee to see if Greenfield was on-side from his own kick, a funny little error from the official.

At 24-18 Souths were coming home the stronger, the Panthers not scoring a try in the second half – but you still felt Souths lacked the constructive and structured attack to win the game. Souths reverted to the high bomb, but kept targeting the Luke Rooney wing – not smart considering the winger is a giant and was regularly defusing the raids.

Coming into the final stage of the game, the difference was only 2 converted tries – but when the Panthers got a penalty in good position, they wanted to go for the quick tap – but smartly Matt Elliott rushed Matt Adamson out with the message to take the two points and in the end it was the right move from the coach under the pump.

The final 10 minutes was tense with both sides nervously trading barbs. Dean Widders cracking first with a dumb strip that cost Souths possession and nearly saw the Panthers go in to wrap up the game. The Bunnies doing enough with their on-line defence to keep things solid. Widders made up for it soon after, despite a poor kicking game in the latter stages from Souths with Sutton kicking out on the full – he was the man to again make the big play setting up Widders for a try.

Sutton ran to the line wide off the ruck drawing two defenders in at about 5 m out from the Penrith line, the big paws of Sutton deliberately reaching around the tacklers before they impacted on him to curl the ball to Widders in a sweet play for a nice try. Souths were back, but had a hiccup when George Ndiara missed the conversion in easy position to leave the score at 26-22 in the Panthers favour.

The final 5 minutes were tense for the struggling Panthers. You could feel Matt Elliott’s shivers as Penrith gave away scrum penalties and made poor decisions to nearly give Souths a sniff, but overall it was the Panthers who still deserved the win and despite not scoring a single try in the second half – they won this game with an energetic and committed start that set the scene.

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