Penrith have recorded back-to-back victories to start the year – and confirmed their status as premiership contenders – with a 40-0 trouncing of a poor Gold Coast outfit at Bathurst on Saturday afternoon.
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The Panthers led 8-0 at half-time but on the back of a hat-trick from centre Jamal Idris and an attacking masterclass from fullback Matt Moylan, crossed for six more tries after the break to put the beleaguered Titans under the sword.
It was also the first time since 2006 Penrith opened a season with consecutive wins.
"They proved it last week against the Bulldogs – they're the real deal," Titans coach Neil Henry said of their opposition after the game.
Despite perfect conditions at a refurbished Carrington Park bathed in glorious sunshine, it was a ghastly opening to the match best summed up by either team coughing up possession or committing a penalty every minute of the first quarter of the match.
In what made for horror viewing, three tries were also disallowed.
The first was a controversial no-try to Gold Coast's wing replacement in Anthony Don, who was adjudged offside by lead referee Gavin Morris in the sixth minute on an Aidan Sezer kick.
The second came just four minutes later when fullback Will Zillman was ruled to have unfairly strolled through a gap after taking a Sezer pass on the inside of decoy runner Ryan James.
And the third was a perfectly executed right-side Penrith play that ended in winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak crossing – except for the fact that prop Brent Kite took out Ryan James next to the posts.
All up, there were a combined 20 penalties and errors inside an ugly opening 20 minutes.
Not surprisingly, a Titans turnover inside their own half helped Penrith take first points, and it came from a signature left-side shift that ended with Moylan putting Idris over in the 21st minute.
Finally finding some semblance of attacking rhythm, Soward's attacking cross-field kick in the 28th minute was caught by Don, only for opposite winger Watene-Zelezniak to punch it out of his grasp on the way down for Whare to pick up and score.
Soward was unable to convert either try, but the home side still entered the sheds with an unremarkable 8-0 advantage.
"The first half – the first 20 anyway – we were definitely off the pace. We probably got a bit lucky actually not to concede a try there somehow but I thought the back end of the first half we started to find our rhythm," Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said.
Despite a combined 30 penalties and errors in the first half, the half-time break did nothing to quash the ill-discipline with both sides unable to complete their first set upon resumption.
But again it was Penrith who were first able to make the most of their opportunity when Soward hit a charging Idris with a 46th-minute short ball close to the line. Moylan took over the kicking duties to extend the lead to 14.
Idris made it a hat-trick just six minutes later on a dubious on-field decision to rule a try despite replays showing him initially fall well short of the tryline on exactly the same play from Soward.
The Panthers poured on the points after that, Moylan turning it on for the Bathurst crowd of 6,240 – in total he set up three tries, made three line breaks and kicked four goals – by putting Whare through in the 63rd minute, and then smartly going blindside for Jennings in 68th.
Interchange forward Bryce Cartwright sealed the win with the team's eighth try of the afternoon in the 78th.
Cleary said he was pleased to go on with the win after an error-riddled first half that conjured memories of last year's defeat to Cronulla at the same ground.
"[The game] always had the kind of makings that it was a little bit like that," he said. "Once once we worked it out, we got into a rhythm and then were good enough to go on with it. It was good to see in the second half, regardless of the scoreboard, we kept at it. So that was pleasing."
Penrith 40 (Idris 3, Whare 2, Jennings, Manu, Cartwright tries; Moylan 4 goals) def. Gold Coast 0. Crowd: 6,240. Half-time: 8-0.