Season 2011 off to a flying start

On one hand, there is “buck-passing”. On Sunday night at Penrith, there was a line as long as your arm to take the buck and hit it up, one-off the ruck, right into the teeth of the opposition defence.

The occasion was Penrith’s 42-8 defeat to Newcastle at Centrebet Stadium. It wasn’t a great afternoon to be a Panthers fan, watching your side live. For a start, there were the 30-degree-plus temperatures. Then there were the seven tries conceded in a bumbling performance which no doubt surprised you – but probably shouldn’t have.

It was actually the fourth time in 11 seasons Penrith have opened their campaign by being comprehensively flogged. In 2002, it was 64-6 to Parramatta, in 2001 it was 40-4 to the Eels and in 2008 Brisbane lapped the mountain men 48-12.

Facing the media, coach Matthew Elliott was first in line to have the buck lobbed straight into his bread-basket from dummy-half.

“When a team shows a lack of discipline like they did today in areas they told us they were going to be emphatic on, when a team shows a lack of execution like we did today collectively, the responsibility for that needs to certainly come my way,” he said.

Captain Petero Civoniceva elbowed him out of the way. “There’s only so much the coach can do for us. Our preparation’s been fine. What happened out there on the field, there were certainly guys responsible for that,” he said.

Step right up, Test centre Michael Jennings, twice caught in front of the kicker at restarts and penalised. “I’ll take the rap, I wasn’t all there, my preparation coming into the game was 50-50,” he said.

“It was a distraction for myself – (going) straight on the park - and I take responsibility (for) our performance. I’m dreaded about the game I played.”

Focusing on the Panthers problems doesn’t properly acknowledge the superb start to the season for the Knights, whose future ownership structure will soon be decided when the Tinkler bid is voted upon. Their new five-eighth Beau Henry was among the try-scorers and Jarrod Mullen stepped up when skipper Kurt Gidley left the field with back spasms.

And it was, after all, a weekend to be positive.

There were crowds of 45,119 (Brisbane), 28,703 (Sydney) and 38,412 (Auckland), leaving us just 10,000-odd short of the all-time record for a single round and tantalisingly close to the 200,000-mark going into the Monday Night Football clash between Canterbury and Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium.

The footy was fast, enthralling and often thrill-a-minute stuff. South Sydney gave us a great comeback before losing 40-29 to Sydney Roosters at Sydney Football Stadium on Friday night. There was the requisite refereeing controversy when St George Illawarra kicked off its title defence by beating Gold Coast 25-16 at Skilled Park on Saturday and Melbourne got their first competition points in almost a year when they beat Manly 18-6 at AAMI Park around the same time.

New coaches Stephen Kearney (Parramatta) and Anthony Griffin (Brisbane) had contrasting fortunes although the Broncos only lost narrowly, 16-14, to North Queensland at Suncorp on Friday. The Eels were ruthless and almost perfect for 60 minutes before holding on to win 24-18 over the Warriors at Eden Park.

But try telling South Sydney’s Scott Geddes (Achilles), Warrior Manu Vatuvei (knee) and Knight Neville Costigan (arm) what a great weekend it was. Each faces between two months and the rest of the season on the sidelines with serious injuries suffered on a weekend they probably thought they were just warming up.

While you’re at it, try telling Paul Aiton what a great weekend for the game it was. The Papua New Guinea international was sent off as his Cronulla side crashed 40-12 to Canberra in the capital.

For the two teams flogged on Sunday, the next hurdle comes quickly and hard. Penrith on Friday plays Parramatta in a rematch of an ill-tempered pre-season game, while Cronulla hosts scary neighbour St George Illawarra in Monday Night Football.

For the Panthers and Sharks, that’s where the buck stops.