The Penrith Panthers defeated the Cronulla Sharks 20-10 at Bluebet Stadium in Penrith on Saturday afternoon, ending the Sharks’ winning streak of 5 in a row and taking the Panthers 10 points clear at the top of the NRL ladder.
What started as a physical encounter between 1st and 3rd and a battle of the halfbacks, it was Shark Connor Tracey who found the line first in the 8th minute after a cross-field kick from Matt Moylan and a pass from Briton Nikora allowing him to go over on the edge.
Within minutes, the Sharks found themselves over the line again when Matt Moylan went over from what started as an error from Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards who couldn’t catch a Nicho Hynes bomb.
This resulted in Royce Hunt running through and scooping up the ball and charging towards the line before the ball went to Moylan to go in under the posts.
The try was controversial to say the least, with Moylan not appearing to ground the ball on or over the line before he was held up in the in-goal.
The Panthers crowd weren’t happy as the Bunker awarded the try, leaving many scratching their heads.
For the first time this season, Penrith found themselves behind by double digits.
They appeared to be a little scattered and panicking, as the Cronulla defence kept running at them and driving them back.
Penrith started to turn it around when Viliame Kikau drove Jesse Ramien back into the in-goal, giving the Panthers another set to try their luck.
While the set didn’t result in a try, they appeared to have a bit more structure in their plays and came within a few metres of scoring had they been able to catch Nathan Cleary’s 5th tackle cross-field kick.
After a dominant first half from the Sharks, the Panthers got on the board in the 34th minute as Izack Tago went over off a smooth pass from Jarome Luai.
With 10 seconds to go before half time, the Panthers took a penalty right in front to close the gap before heading into the sheds.
The second half started with the Penrith show, scoring in the first 49 seconds after some quick passing, a break from Taylan May and a pass to Dylan Edwards who took it the rest of the way down the field, giving Penrith the lead for the first time.
Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon said at half time that he thought his side was in the fight but lost the possession battle just before the break, and that they needed to make less errors in the second half.
With 10 minutes left, Sharks big hitter Dale Finucane made a massive hit on Stephen Crichton that had the crowd chanting for him to be sent off.
While the referee didn’t see much in it, it was revealed that Crichton had a gnarly laceration on his left ear and would be heading to hospital for surgery to repair it. It would be expected that Crichton will miss a few weeks to give the ear plenty of healing time.
While both teams fought hard in the 2nd half, it was the Panthers who won the defensive battle as they slowly wore down the attack of the Sharks and then took an opportunity to score in the 78th minute courtesy of Jarome Luai.
Cleary added the extras and the Panthers finished with a 10 point victory and potentially taking the Minor Premiership before season’s end.
Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon said that the team “are disappointed because we feel like we have more to offer than that”.
He went on to say he was disappointed that his side couldn’t execute, but that “there is a lot of confidence you take out of it”.
Penrith coach Ivan Cleary said that Crichton was “not in a great way” and there was room for argument over whether it was careless.
Cleary also went on to say that he thought they “would at least get a penalty”.
While Cleary said he wasn’t sure of interpretations in regards to sin-bins and send-offs, the Sharks were certain the incident was nothing more than a head clash.
Finucane may still find himself charged by the match review committee if the contact made is deemed to be careless and/or dangerous.
PENRITH PANTHERS: 20 TRIES: I. Tago, D. Edwards, J. Luai GOALS: N. Cleary 3/3 PENALTY GOALS: N. Cleary 1/1
CRONULLA SHARKS: 10 TRIES: C. Tracey, M. Moylan GOALS: N. Hynes 1/2
LOZ’S STAND OUTS: D. Edwards (PEN), B. To’o (PEN), S. Crichton (PEN), N. Hynes (CRO), W. Kennedy (CRO), S. Talakai (CRO)