THE Panthers turned up ready to blast their opponents away with some expansive razzle-dazzle footy; the signs were good for them early but the sharp mountain men were blunted by a Broncos outfit that got out of second gear only when it was required.
As it happened, it was required twice: when scoring three tries from the 15th minute to race to an apparently unassailable 24-6 half-time lead, and when skipping away with two late tries after the Panthers had bridged the deficit to 24-18 with less than 20 minutes to play.
Rookie Broncos winger Antonio Winterstein grabbed a try double in the first 15 minutes – his first a controversial grounding deep in the in-goal when chasing a deft Karmichael Hunt grubber in the sixth minute.
Penrith replied with a spectacular four-pointer just minutes later; the Broncos allowed a Wade Graham cross-field bomb to bounce and in the ensuing scrap the ball landed fortuitously in the hands of winger Michael Gordon when he arrived on the scene at pace and scooted 20 metres down the touchline to score.
While the Panthers showed great heart to compete in attack, their defence was sadly found wanting. And their expansive offloads finally took their toll; when they stuck it was great but when they failed to find their mark the Broncos were quick to make them pay on the turnover.
The Game Swung When… Broncos’ halfback Peter Wallace kicked out on the full in the 21st minute with the visitors leading 12-6. That sent the Panthers on the attack deep in Broncos territory. They sent the ball right where it found… Justin Hodges lurking in the line. The Test star snared the intercept, raced 70 metres to score under the posts and it was 18-6 and game over. Almost.
Who Was Hot… Antonio Winterstein (two tries) continues to make the most of his opportunities in the top grade. Prop Nick Kenny toiled hard and made plenty of impact, keeping Dave Taylor to just 15 minutes of game time. Justin Hodges scored twice and made five tackle breaks on his way to 187 metres.
There were nice efforts from interchange hooker Andrew McCullough (31 touches, three tackle breaks and a line break in 45 minutes) and Alex Glenn (three tackle breaks and 20 tackles in 42 minutes).
For the Panthers, Michael Jennings was electric at times (two line breaks, a try, a try assist, two offloads and eight tackle breaks).
Who Was Not… The Panther’ execution and discipline was poor. Incredibly, their 33 missed tackles were 12 fewer than the Broncos. But they made 14 crucial errors, with three each from Masada Iosefa and Wade Graham.
Peter Wallace made three errors for the visitors. And Ashton Sims lived up to his ‘Mr Fumbles’ tag dropping a ball cold.
Had To Be Seen To be Believed… While Matt Elliott’s charges turned up ready to play, for some reason Ivan Henjak’s boys were 10 minutes late to do the same thing, the game delayed until a 7.45 kick-off. It didn’t make great television; there’s only so much you can take of rugby league players stalking around in the dressing room, revving each other up with beat-your-chest embraces.
And alas, Michael Gordon’s tilt at a world record 35 consecutive successful goal kicks stalled at 23 after he failed to convert his sideline try. But he then bagged his final two from two, so he’s back on a streak. Of sorts.
Refs Watch… The crowd howled at video ref Bill Harrigan’s decision to green-light the Broncos’ first try when television replays showed Winterstein with barely a touch on the ball as he planted it down. But under 2009’s revised rules that’s all that’s required.
With barely a minute left Broncos hooker Aaron Gorrell was placed on report for a lifting tackle; there didn’t look much in it at all. And there was doubt about whether it was even Gorrell… it wasn’t: the match review committee later charged Corey Parker with a dangerous throw; with an early guilty plea he’ll be free to play against the Eels this week.
Bad Boys… Doesn’t seem possible but Panthers skipper Petero Civoniceva was an angry man most of the night, earning the ire of the refs for his inability to scrummage correctly. Petero also argued numerous decisions with the whistleblowers. And although it escaped the officials’ attention he made a clumsy high tackle in the dying minutes of the game that may well be scrutinised by the match review committee.
Injuries… Panthers centre Brad Tighe tore a pectoral muscle and will be out for an extended period.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Nick Kenny (Broncos): Powered through his 61 minutes, making 15 runs for 117 metres, with five tackle breaks and 25 tackles; 2 points – Justin Hodges (Broncos): His intercept try was a killer; 1 point – Trent Waterhouse (Panthers): Hit the line hard and without fear creating all sorts of problems for the Broncos (12 hit-ups, 32 tackles).
Broncos 38 (A Winterstein 2, J Hodges 2, A Glenn, K Hunt tries; C Parker 7 goals) def Panthers 18 (M Gordon, S Elford, M Jennings tries; Gordon 3 goals) at CUA Stadium. Crowd: 14,332.