A hardy crowd of fans at Penrith’s CUA Stadium on Saturday evening saw an entertaining game between evenly matched teams, won by the home side who looked a mite more desperate.
The Green Machine didn't get the rub of the green, whether it was from the bounce of the ball, the 50:50 decisions or injury.
Penrith played clinically and took their opportunities, not qualities always associated with the men from the base of the Blue Mountains. They'll be happy with the two points against a side that's been a bogy for them.
All in all a pretty good game of footy, but one which won't have the bookies winding in either side's double-figure odds of taking out the 2009 Telstra Premiership.
The Game Swung When… In the 24th minute the Raiders launched a nice attacking raid down the left-hand side with Terry Campese combining nicely with Joel Monaghan, before Tom Learoyd-Lahrs charged in and almost crashed over. The ball was shifted to Marc Herbert in the middle of the park who put through a grubber that Monaghan seemed certain to dive upon in-goal. But the ball hit the post and bobbled about and the video ref ruled Monaghan knocked it on. A try would have made it 12-6 to Penrith.
In the 34th minute the Raiders crossed through winger Daniel Vidot after some nice work inside by Campese, Herbert and Bronson Harrison. But video ref Russell Smith – who had a very busy game pressing buttons in a manner some would describe as “willy nilly” – ruled a knock-on by Josh Dugan in an earlier exchange.
Both of Penrith's tries required Smith's adjudication and both had question marks. But that is the rub of it, as Canberra found out when Penrith centre Brad Tighe scored under the posts after some nice lead-up by Wade Graham right on minute no.40. At halftime the Panthers were 18-nil, which was too many.
After the break the teams traded tries, the impressive Walsh added a field-goal and Michael Gordon kicked for goal without missing one (to make his season's statistics 35 from 37, a healthy 95 per cent).
Who Was Hot… Slick work one-off the ruck from Walsh. He fed his forwards and backs nicely while his kicking kept the Raiders pinned in Raiders territory, including a 40:20.
Penrith’s forwards were strong without their best forward and captain Petero Civoniceva, with Trent Waterhouse (18 runs, 121 metres, 28 tackles) and Nathan Smith (36 tackles, five tackle breaks) most impressive.
Josh Dugan had another fine game at fullback for Canberra, he'll play rep footy some time in the 2010s.
Canberra's forwards battled hard, as they always do, particularly after losing Learoyd-Lahrs in the first half. Nigel Plum had a game-high 39 tackles and was well supported by Alan Tongue and Bronson Harrison who both made 33 tackles. Harrison also ran effectively out wide.
Who Was Not... Hard to really single out a player who played badly. Perhaps Marc Herbert's kicking wasn't long or good enough, ditto Campese's. Maybe Dane Tilse didn't play stronger after he lost his fellow huge man Learoyd-Lahrs. But the trio were still very strong and tried hard, and will win more games for their team this year playing as they did on this disappointing evening for them.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Frank Puletua scored the first try for the Panthers at greater odds than Tom Watson winning next year's British Open. His second meatie ever.
In the 76th minute Jarrod Sammut was twisted into a position that looked like he would be torn asunder. But he got up and kept on playing.
Bad Boys… None.
Refs Watch… In the second minute Bernard Sutton penalised Panthers half Walsh for a forward pass that went so far backward it was like Dr Who's Tardis turning up for Captain Cook’s first birthday.
Puletua's try received Benefit of the Doubt from Russell Smith after the big Panther was held up in-goal but wrestled for a period before planting the ball. It was contentious because how long is too long before a man's tackled? Canberra types would be forgiven for being aggrieved it wasn't called a double- or even triple-movement. But then if Smith had doubt it was the right call.
Jason Robinson penalised the Raiders for being inside the 10 metres though none of them were involved in a tackle made by marker Campese.
Smith then ruled Junior Tia-Kilifi's try was good despite a hint of obstruction.
And he ruled the Raiders had knocked on in the two first half attempts to score. Busy night for Smith.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Luke Walsh (Panthers): Kicking kept the Raiders pinned down, passing put his runners in space; 2 points – Trent Waterhouse (Panthers): A host of work from a big unit in the Nathan Hindmarsh mould; 1 point – Josh Dugan (Raiders): Fine work at fullback by the rangy colt.
Panthers 27 (F Puletua, J Tia Kilifi, B Tighe, J Paulo tries; M Gordon 5 goals; L Walsh field-goal) def Raiders 14 (T Campese, D Vidot, J Croker tries; T Campese goal) at CUA Stadium. Crowd: 8074.