Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles preview
3 hours ago | Tim Costello
After a dominant hour of footy, a youthful Penrith side was forced to dig deep in order to hold on and down the Sharks 26-20 at home, having led 26-4 early in the second half.
On a cold and windy evening at Panthers Stadium, the home side blooded three debutants including five-eighth Matt Burton, for whom the club received special permission from the NRL to include in the lineup following James Maloney's failure to escape suspension at the judiciary.
Burton, along with Spencer Leniu on the bench and Stephen Crichton in the centres all turned in admirable performances. Burton's kicking game in particular added a new dimension to Penrith's attack, which has struggled even during their seven game winning streak.
Penrith opened the scoring inside the first ten minutes when they were handed a penalty in front of the sticks - Nathan Cleary dutifully converting that opportunity to two points.
The 10,860 crowd were given more reason to celebrate after fifteen minutes when Brent Naden scored the first try of the match, and when Dylan Edwards grabbed Penrith's second at the 25-minute mark it looked to be all one-way traffic.
The Sharks did hit back before halftime, with Wade Graham crossing thanks to some handy work from Shaun Johnson in the lead-up - but that closing of the margin was rendered useless when Cleary strolled over under the posts right on halftime for a 20-4 lead.
Penrith looked to continue their domination both with the ball and on the scoreboard, and Edwards' second just five minutes post-resumption ensured they played from 26-4 ahead with half an hour remaining.
Cronulla couldn't breach the Penrith line until the 60th minute, when Jack Williams barged his way across and the Penrith defence started to tire. At first it looked like consolation - but when Josh Morris crossed a couple of minutes later suddenly plenty of home fans had a lump in their throat.
The Panthers' recalibrated and kept the visitors out for ten minutes and that seemed to have done the trick until Sosaia Feki crossed inside the last five minutes, reducing the margin to just six points.
To their credit, Penrith's young side held on and ensured they came away with the two points, in turn knocking the Sharks out of the top eight and planting themselves inside it.
Ivan Cleary's side now has three away games to contend with - the Broncos and Cowboys in Queensland before a trip to the SCG to face the reigning premiers - then finish with a home game against Newcastle.
Cronulla's path to September is now a little bit harder after losing this contest, but have the benefit of three straight at home before they finish the premiership rounds at Leichhardt against the Wests Tigers.
Penrith Panthers 26 - Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 20
Venue: Panthers Stadium
Halftime Score: Penrith Panthers 20 Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 4
LeagueUnlimited.com Players of the Match:
3 points - James Fisher-Harris
2 points - Matt Burton
1 points - Shaun Johnson
PENRITH PANTHERS (26)
Tries: Nathan Cleary, Brent Naden, Dylan Edwards (2)
Conversions: Nathan Cleary (4/4)
Penalty Goals: Nathan Cleary (1/1)
CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS (20)
Tries: Wade Graham, Jack Williams, Josh Morris, Sosaia Feki
Conversions: Shaun Johnson (2/4)