The Warriors conquered the high-flying Panthers on Sunday thanks largely to a dominant second half and the efforts of a couple of players who pushed through the pain barrier for the cause.
Having already had second-rower Jayson Bukuya ruled out of the game due to a concussion just before halftime, the Warriors were further weakened when Nathan Friend left the field for tests after suffering a head knock himself just minutes into the second period.
Leading 18-16 at the time, the game was hanging in the balance for the Warriors, and when Ben Henry had to receive attention following pain in his troublesome left knee the signs looked ominous.
But both Henry and Friend, once cleared of concussion, pushed through to finish the game as the Warriors’ highest tacklers (Friend 41 and Henry 37) and help turn a 16-12 halftime deficit into a 30-20 win.
“It was a massive effort from Ben because we lost Nathan for a period of time there and [Ben] was struggling himself,” coach Andrew McFadden said following the victory at Mount Smart Stadium which ended Penrith’s five-game winning streak.
“We kept on checking on him, but he kept saying he wanted to play through, so it was very fortunate he was able to do that because it was a key part of our game.
“Nathan took a bit of a knock there but was fine and cleared by the doctor.
“It’s something we will look at obviously, but he was able to come back on and sometimes that happens in games.
“We get a good chance to rest him this week as well.”
Knowing the importance of his presence given the Warriors had four forwards on the bench and no genuine backup options at hooker, Friend came back on to guide the Warriors home in a second half where they scored 18 points and conceded just four.
The former Storm and Titans dummy-half said he wouldn’t have even contemplated returning had he and the doctor not been 100 per cent sure he was clear of concussion.
“I’m OK, I am lucky that we have the week off now,” he said. “I won’t do anything and will just rest up and be right for a couple of weeks’ time.
“The doc put me through the normal tests and everything was fine. I didn’t lose consciousness and I knew where I was, everything was fine.
“If anything had happened I would certainly not have gone back on, that’s for sure.”
The efforts didn’t go unnoticed by former Queensland State of Origin centre Dane Nielsen, who singled the two out as inspirations in the club’s eighth victory of the season.
“We knew it was going to be a tough battle and that’s why there are a few boys battered and bruised, but that’s rugby league and that’s why we love it,” Nielsen said following his first game back in the NRL after a five-game stint in the NSW Cup.
“You are not always going to feel 100 per cent. Whether it’s before the game, that week or even during the game.
“It is good to see the mental toughness side of it, for those blokes to finish the game off like we needed them too was very inspirational and that goes a long way to us winning games.”