Penrith Panthers 30 def Bulldogs 20
When the Bulldogs had three stars pull out before kick-off it must have given the Panthers a glimmer of hope; as Sonny Bill Williams, Mark O’Meley and Willie Tonga all sat out tonights clash. As they did last week, the Panthers started strongly and looked energetic early.
However, the Bulldogs got some points on the board in the first half and looked to be overhauling the persistent Penrith side as time wore on. The Panthers as has been the case for much of 2007, couldn’t get many passes to stick and couldn’t get luck to fall their way early on.
At half time it was 3 tries to 1 in favour of the Bulldogs, only poor kicking from Hazem El Masri giving the Panthers some hope.
It must have been some speech by Matt Elliott and co at half time, as the Panthers came out firing, putting on a tonne of points and looking solid in all departments.
They had plenty of success attacking the Bulldogs left hand edge; Geoff Daniella looking the goods, as did Nick Youngquest as the two wide men ran hard at the line and pulled off some lovely short passing in limited space.
It was catching on for the Panthers, Tony Puletua began wide running and getting his big arms free and it was yet another strong showing for Peter Wallace – we’ve said it before, but this kid will play for Australia no doubt. Fortunately Elliott has him playing first grade these days.
While the Panthers were in overdrive with some great second phase play on most sets, the Bulldogs were withering away. Injuries galore for the Dogs will have Steve Folkes getting little sleep.
Big Willie Mason looks to have broken his wrist and will miss at least 4 weeks by early reports, winger Cameron Phelps is in the wars again – this time with a fractured eye socket. Replacement Dogs forward Aaron Wheatley also getting hurt, with a dislocated shoulder.
It was some deserved spoils for the Panthers, they do still look flaky in defence – as when the Bulldogs did mount a charge it was always battle stations – to their credit they scrambled and countered well.
The Dogs always had a tall ask with so many injuries and fortunately for them they have some decent depth in the forwards and will need it by the looks of things.
Sydney Roosters 23 def Cronulla Sharks 12
Ricky Stuart vs Brad Fittler – the former allies, at war and the junior partner came off with the spoils.
It was a totally different Roosters side tonight, lively, eager and dominant in defence. Facing the tough Sharks defence, the Roosters employed their best defence line and proved extremely tough to penetrate all night. The Sharks tries coming from kicks.
Fittler had reshuffled the positions for the Roosters and setup what most thought was the best look for the side. Anasta at pivot, Wing at half and Harrison starting at lock.
With the Roosters looking the goods for most of the first half, even with less possession that the Sharks – the Cronulla side managed to stay in touch on the scoreboard. A last second try by Dave Simmons could have easily drove a knife into the heart of the Roosters as the hooter went.
As the second half wore on and the Roosters realised they were a chance of winning, their confidence grew big time. Anthony Topou was dynamic and hard to stop on most runs, piercing the line and find support several times.
It was the structure that really set the win up for the Roosters tonight. In previous weeks they have been a little unsure of themselves, Fittler has obviously put some routine and process in place for the team.
It was a match with plenty of feeling, two major punch ups giving the crowd plenty to cheer for. There will surely be some suspensions after a few hits were put on report.
Amos Roberts continues to struggle with form, him being the only Rooster not to really have an impact tonight – however if the Roosters continue playing like this, it will make things easier for the former flyer.
The Sharks were sadly similar to how they have been in recent weeks. Fairly solid in defence, but lost in attack. They rarely threatened through the hands and obviously got frustrated with things – lashing out and giving away plenty of penalties.
The Sharks needed this win badly, they now have lost 4 on the trot and face the toughest run home of any other top 8 hopeful.
I would hate to be around Ricky Stuart for the next 24 hours.