With a cold and wet strip at Campbelltown Sports Ground, both sides started surprisingly uptempo as things got underway for Monday Night Football. The Tigers still $1.55 favourites despite Robbie Farah and Dene Halatau being unavailable.
The Tigers had the best of the early exchanges, getting lightning quick play the balls and looking the most likely to score early on. The Tigers did get on the board first through a penalty goal, Brett Hodgson choosing to take the 2 points after the Panthers did their best to slow the play down.
Big collisions were the order of the day early on, Frank Pritchard pulling off some bell ringers in quick succession. The enthusiasm from Pritchard was catching on, the Panthers finally getting some ball and making an immediately impact. Luke Priddis skirting over from dummy half in what was a soft try against the Tigers. Referee Jason Robinson choosing to award the try immediately despite some concern over the try, Brad Tighe seemingly knocking the Tigers defenders as he played the ball to Priddis from 1m out.
At 6-2, the Panthers suddenly looked dangerous. They had all the ball and the field position was ideal for the away side. In contrast, when the Tigers had the ball they either couldn’t get to tackle 5 or if they did, there was a poor kick or no kick at all.
Penrith were doing the little things right and it paid off. The Panthers in again in the 20th minute, peppering the line from 20m out – it was a Jarrod Sammut pin point grubber that saw Michael Jennings literally fly through the defence line to score untouched. The speed of Jennings so impressive, many feeling he just had to be offside. A hot try to Penrith and the score now 12-2 to the Mountain Men.
With everything going their way, the Panthers probably made a poor call in the 24th minute, choosing to go for a penalty goal rather than keep the pressure on. Obviously wanting a two-converted try lead, the kick was a difficult one – Sammut missing and the pressure valve immediately released. Poor choice from the Panthers on this occasion, as they looked certain to score – the Tigers out on their feet.
With the Tigers only having possession in their own quarter, they had a chance to grab an unlikely advantage around the 28th minute mark, Chris Lawrence unable to catch a regulation ball on the flank after the Tigers created an overlap. Had he caught the pill, Wesser had to make up 5m on him and it looked certain Lawrence would score.
The Panthers with more ball were again on the attack, just before the half hour mark they went in again, Maurice Blair the try scorer this time, John Morris racing out of the defence line to cost his team dearly, Blair cruising in untouched to set-up a big lead for Penrith. The side growing in confidence by the second, 18-2 to the Panthers.
As the end of the half neared, you got the feeling the Wests Tigers had to score before half time to have a chance in this one. They did have several opportunities to go over, but both sides got scrappy and were guilty of pressing the panic button too early nearing half time.
While Penrith were ahead on the scoreboard, the news out of the sheds was bad – Adam Woolnough, Frank Pritchard, Reece Wesser and Trent Waterhouse all injured. With their bench depleted, the Tigers only had to play the possession game and work them over for an eventual win. But for some reason the Tigers continued to panic and looked lost inside the attacking zone.
Especially with the conditions, the Tigers just needed to play simple 1 out football. When The Tigers did get some repeat sets they just had no answers in attack, Penrith to be commended for their defence. Led by the inspirational Nathan Smith, the Panthers repelled wave after wave – the whole time with tired troops unable to be replaced.
Even when the Tigers made linebreaks through Brett Hodgson they couldn’t finish it off, the experienced fullback failing to draw and pass on two occasions and was guilty of passing too early. Just when the momentum looked to swing completely in the favour of Wests – Frank Pritchard or Nathan Smith would pull off a monster hit to boost their teams morale.
Even after some minor errors from Penrith and possession favouring the Tigers 60/40 – the courageous Panthers managed to score a nice try on the 77th minute mark. The recently criticised Frank Puletua making a strong charge, beating two defenders and setting up Brad Tighe for the icing on the cake. The former Newcastle Knight looking to be a good buy for Penrith, scoring 4 tries in 4 appearances and looking dangerous on the fringe.
The final nail in the coffin made the loss even harder for the Wests Tigers. The home side being served well by Todd Payten, the big prop having possibly his best game in recent memory – hitting it up strong and offloading at will, supported well by Brett Hodgson and reserve forward Bronson Harrison. With consistently good showings from Harrison, surely Tim Sheens must look to get him into the starting lineup.
For Penrith, now 4 points on the board and moving up the NRL Ladder – a week remains a long time in football, the Panthers really turning things around. Penrith host the Roosters at CUA next weekend – the game providing the ultimate test. Injuries will be the biggest worry for the aging Matt Elliott.
The Tigers head to Canberra and will be very worried about their stagnated attack with Robbie Farah now a week to week proposition after consistent back problems. Sheens may have boldly blooded some youngsters in the early stages of 2008, but he needs to some experienced players quickly or the Tigers risk losing touch.