THE Panther growl turned the Tiger roar to a meow as Penrith continued their dominance in the battle of the big cats.
The Panthers have now won 12 of 16 matches and nine of the past 11 against their Western Sydney nemesis, including three in a row.
To be fair, the score line blew out over the final moments, with the match tied up at 22-all with 10 minutes remaining, but perhaps the writing was on the wall when Panthers fullback Lachlan Coote busted the Tigers’ defence from the opening kick-off.
The home side didn’t grab any points from the early break (they did go very close) but Tigers fullback Tim Moltzen dislocated an elbow, and just four minutes later Luke Lewis had opened the scoring to kick-start the evening (and become the fourth highest try-scorer in Penrith history).
A kick-off out on the full invited the Panthers to score another try and it was 12-0 inside the first 10 minutes.
The visitors were back to within two after 22 minutes and were well in the match at the back end, until three Penrith tries in the final eight minutes sealed an impressive victory.
Coming off the back of their Monday night win over Manly, the result pushed the Panthers into the top eight while the Tigers dropped back out of the finals zone on differential.
The Game Swung When… The Wests Tigers appeared to have all the momentum in the second half as they fought back from a 22-12 deficit to tie up the match in the 63rd minute thanks to the NRL’s leading try-scorer Taniela Tuiaki.
But a Frank Pritchard break in the 68th minute seemed to return some confidence to the Panthers’ attack despite the fact he was brought down by Rhys Hanbury. Hanbury was penalised for holding down and a Michael Gordon penalty goal wrestled the lead back at 24-22.
The space found on the left side inspired the Panthers to go back that way and Luke Lewis released Michael Jennings into clear running, the centre passing back inside to a flying Pritchard to score in the 72nd minute.
Any chance the Tigers had to get back into the match was gone when Bryce Gibbs lost the football in attack in front of the posts, a 50-50 call that went against them. Late tries to Wade Graham and Lachlan Coote gave the Penrith fans reason to party.
Who Was Hot… Luke Lewis produced a tough performance despite a sternum complaint. Looking likely to leave the match early, Lewis returned to the field to spark the Panthers to a late victory.
He scored an early try, provided a try assist and seven tackle-breaks among an all round great effort.
Trent Waterhouse continued his good form with some great offloads and carries while Robbie Farah battled hard for the Wests Tigers, getting them back level in the second half before the Panthers pulled away.
Who Was Not… Young Tigers centre Chris Lawrence had a poor night defensively, missing tackles that led directly to two tries, while fullback replacement Rhys Hanbury had an up-and-down performance.
Hanbury scored two tries however he dropped a bomb for the clinching Penrith try and gave away the penalty that put the home side in the lead late.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… The Wests Tigers opening try was a cracker. Benji Marshall took off down the blindside on the last tackle from near halfway and sliced through half a gap to entice the winger in.
A pass out to Dean Collis followed and the centre duly passed back inside to Marshall who continued down field. As the cover converged he grubbered the ball back towards the posts where John Morris managed to tap the ball back into Keith Galloway’s arms, the big prop crashing over with three defenders hanging off him.
Penrith also entertained and their final try was impressive. From halfway Paul Aiton ducked and dodged and then passed to Jarrod Sammut. Sammut turned Trent Waterhouse back inside and he offloaded brilliantly to a flying Gordon who cracked the line before finding Shane Elford who then found a gliding Coote. Coote would have scored some 9.5s for his swan dive under the posts… if not perfect 10s.
Injuries… Wests Tigers fullback Tim Moltzen lasted 30 seconds before dislocating an elbow; he’ll miss four games. Luke Lewis hurt his sternum but battled on throughout the match in an impressive display.
Bad boys… Michael Gordon was penalised for a dangerous tackle late in the first half but the incident wasn’t reported and looked fairly harmless.
Rhys Hanbury was later hit with a dangerous contact charge by the NRL match review committee; with an early guilty plea he’ll be free to play at the weekend.
Ref Watch… Ben Cummins and Phil Haines were pretty seamless although Haines could have been braver and sin-binned Rhys Hanbury in the 68th minute. Hanbury deliberately slowed the play-the-ball after a Frank Pritchard break and while Haines blew the penalty, allowing the Panthers to take the lead, Hanbury can count himself lucky.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Luke Lewis (Panthers): The stalwart took control of the match when it was in the balance, pushing his side to victory despite suffering from a sternum injury. Plenty of people out Penrith way are happy he reneged on his verbal agreement with South Sydney last year;
2 points – Trent Waterhouse (Panthers): Has had an uncanny ability to inject himself into the play at crucial moments so far this season and this game was no different. Made a long bust to set up Michael Jennings and produced great offloads throughout match. Added a healthy 29 tackles to the mix; 1 point – Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers): The Tigers’ skipper pulled his side back from a half-time deficit with two great breaks to produce tries and also topped the match tackle count with 34. Never stopped trying.
Panthers 42 (L Lewis, J Sammut, M Jennings, F Pritchard, W Graham, L Coote tries; M Gordon 9 goals) def Wests Tigers 22 (R Hanbury 2, K Galloway, T Tuiaki tries; B Marshall 3 goals) at CUA Stadium. Crowd: 15,813.