Panthers progress to Holden Cup grand final
The Panthers have advanced to their second Holden Cup grand final in three years with a commanding 50-16 win over defending premiers the Warriors at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
Without halfback Nathan Cleary due to his selection in the Australian Schoolboys team, the Panthers welcomed centre Robert Jennings back into the team before putting on a controlled display against a brave but ill-disciplined Warriors team.
The Panthers dominated territory and possession in the first half and having spent the past five weeks on the road the defensive strain eventually proved too much for the Warriors who were the team Penrith defeated to claim the 2013 title.
Winger Dylan Edwards was one of the stars for the Panthers who not only caught some spectacular catches defending bombs but scored two tries – including a 90-metre intercept 11 minutes from full-time – and kicked six goals for a personal tally of 20 points.
Taking a 10-point lead into the break, the Panthers were first to strike in the second half when the video referee confirmed a try for Jennings after fullback Brent Naden soared above the Warriors to take a bomb and find Jennings in support just a couple of metres out.
Needing to hit back to keep their title hopes alive the Warriors took just a couple of minutes to come up with a spectacular reply with a host of offloads on the Panthers line opening up enough space or Jazz Tevaga to dive over, Ata Hingano's conversion reducing the deficit to 10 points.
But as soon as they got back into the game the Warriors went onto the back foot when Penrith back-rower Kaide Ellis twisted and turned his way to score left of the posts despite the attention of three Warriors defenders.
As the scoreboard began to get more and more lopsided the Warriors struggled to keep pace as Corey Harawira powered through close to the line and Tyrone May and Edwards scored while Jake Ennis was awarded a penalty try when he was dragged off the ball in attempting to ground a grubber kick in the in-goal three minutes from full-time.
The Warriors opened the scoring in the fifth minute when skilful fullback Brad Abbey attracted two defenders before conjuring a right-hand flick pass to big winger Marata Niukore who pushed past Panthers half Jarome Luai to score in the right corner.
Despite their bright start the Warriors committed the ultimate rugby league sin when they made an error from the set straight after points and on the back of two penalties the minor premiers made them pay, hooker Soni Luke diving through some thin goal-line defence to level the scores, the conversion by Reed Izzard putting Penrith in front.
The Warriors had a chance to re-take the lead 20 minutes into the first half when Ofahiki Ogden barrelled his way through the defence on the right edge but sent a wild flick pass a metre or so from the try-line rather than attempting to score himself.
Having been camped inside the Warriors' 20-metre line the Panthers eventually scored their second through winger Fuimanu Enese but it took a sublime round-the-back flick pass from fullback Naden to create the space on the outside for Enese to cross wide out.
Determined Panthers defence kept the Warriors out at one end of the field and then they turned defence into points at the other end when Dylan Edwards pounced on a Warriors error from a kick return to score untouched 10 minutes from half-time, Izzard's sideline conversion attempt just drifting wide.
Penrith Panthers 50 (Dylan Edwards 2, Soni Luke, Fuimanu Enese, Robert Jennings, Kaide Ellis, Corey Harawira, Tyrone May, Jake Ennis (pen) tries; Edwards 6, Reed Izzard goals) defeated Warriors 16 (Marata Niukore, Jazz Tevaga, Tomas Aoake tries; Ata Hingano, Brad Abbey goals) at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane. Half-time: Panthers 14-4.