A sizzling three-try performance from Penrith centre Michael Jennings propelled Penrith to a thrilling 38-34 win over local rivals Parramatta on Sunday, providing NSW selectors with a timely boost ahead of next week’s third State of Origin clash.
The lead changed 12 times at CUA Stadium with exciting young Eel Daniel Mortimer scoring twice for the visitors but it was Jennings that proved the difference by crossing three times himself then setting up the match-winner for debutant Junior Tia-Kilifi in the dying minutes with a brilliant in-and-away on Joel Reddy.
One of the games of the season unfortunately ended any genuine hopes Parramatta had of staging a late charge into the top eight, despite signs that they have finally turned the corner after a shocking start to the season.
The Eels scored six tries of their own and looked set to escape with the two points when Mortimer scored his second in the 70th minute but they couldn’t hold on when it mattered.
Still, there was barely a dull moment with Penrith opening the scoring after just three minutes and the sides trading tries for the remainder of the game.
Nathan Hindmarsh again did everything in his powers to earn a State of Origin recall with a barnstorming solo try in the 31st minute to give his side an 18-12 lead but while the attack was scintillating, both sides were often left to look second rate in defence as their opponents broke the line with ease.
Penrith clawed their way back into the top eight with their win.
The Game Swung When… The final siren sounded.
Such was the flurry of attacking raids, neither side ever looked certain to win with six points being the biggest lead held at any stage of the game.
In the end it took another piece of Jennings brilliance to steal a dramatic late win for the home side.
Who Was Hot… It was a day for the outside backs to show their skills with Jennings and Parramatta fullback Jarryd Hayne among the best on field.
Penrith halfback Luke Walsh also caused problems for Parramatta throughout the game with Daniel Mortimer another to perform well.
Who Was Not… Defence was a major problem for both sides, with three Panthers missing four tackles – including hooker Paul Aiton who was responsible for Nathan Hindmarsh’s 20-metre dash to the tryline after a feeble grab at the Eels’ back-rower. Luke Walsh and Wade Graham also missed four.
Eels pair Nathan Cayless and Ben Smith missed three tackles each while a total of seven Parramatta players missed two tackles, most of them straight up the middle of the park.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Penrith’s match-winning try came down to a stunning piece of footwork from representative centre Michael Jennings.
Receiving the ball with room to move out wide to the left, Jennings was still well covered by Joel Reddy until his lightning quick in-and-away left the Eels no.3 stranded.
It gave Parramatta winger Eric Grothe no choice but to come inside to assist and Jennings sent Junior Tia-Kilifi over untouched in the corner.
Injuries… Frank Pritchard (Panthers) – broken hand, 6-8 weeks.
Refs Watch… A solid performance from referees Jason Robinson and Gerard Sutton.
NRL.com Best and Fairest:
3 points – Michael Jennings (Panthers): The difference between the two sides, Jennings scored three tries and set up the match-winner in a phenomenal individual performance; 2 points – Jarryd Hayne (Eels): Topped the metre count with 147 metres, scored a try early in the second half and played a major role in two more as the Eels’ most dangerous attacking player (yet again); 1 point – Luke Walsh (Panthers): Looked a threat throughout the match with a series of dangerous runs.
Panthers 38 (M Jennings 3, T Grant, J Paulo, N Smith, J Tia-Kilifi tries; L Walsh 5 goals) def Eels 34 (D Mortimer 2, J Reddy, N Hindmarsh, J Hayne, L Burt tries; L Burt 5 goals) at CUA Stadium. Crowd: 16,845.