Penrith's Holden Cup team keeps rolling on
A relieved Cameron Ciraldo has praised his Panthers for grinding their way to a nervy 24-14 Holden Cup win over a Cronulla side that simply wouldn't go away on Sunday afternoon.
The 10-point win was Penrith's smallest in 2016, while 14 was the most points they'd conceded since Round 3, and 24 the fewest points they'd scored all year.
The 2015 premiers were staring down the barrel of their first loss since Round 1 when they found themselves behind with 15 minutes to play, but three late tries and a second half defensive shutout were enough to extend their winning streak to six.
It wasn't the rolling juggernaut performance Holden Cup fans have been used to seeing when the competition leaders play, but Ciraldo says he was just happy to get the two points with his side crippled by injuries.
"The Sharks have been going well and they played really well today so we had to play well to match them in the end," Ciraldo told NRL.com after the game.
"There were a few things that went against us. We lost Jack Hetherington in the middle of the night after he came down with a virus.
"Tevita Mapapalangi got ruled out during the game, but we were short of numbers in the front row so he basically played at 75 per cent which was a massive ask of him.
"And then we lost Wayde [Egan] so everyone had to step up and do a little bit extra, which they did. I'm really proud of them."
The Panthers were already without star five-eighth Jarome Luai after the 2015 premiership winner injured his knee in the first half of their Round 7 win over the Roosters.
"We're thinking about six weeks with his knee injury. He's seeing the specialist and we'll see how he goes," the Panthers coach said.
"Tyrone May went in there today and did a good job. On the bench we had Christian Crighton and Jack Nelson who are both centres playing in the middle for us. We're a bit patched up at the moment; there are people playing busted everywhere but they keep turning up for each other."
Down by four with 15 minutes to play, Penrith turned to their star fullback Dylan Edwards to get them home.
The highly talented custodian crossed for two crucial tries at the death to seal the tense victory, and Ciraldo says he was pleased to see his prodigious No.1 lift after a rough start to the game that saw him drop a ball cold with the line begging.
"He's probably been our best player all season," his proud coach said.
"He probably wasn't all that happy with his game at half time. He was in there (the sheds) a bit down in the dumps, but for him to come out in the second half and pull a couple of things out of his back pocket was really pleasing."
Ciraldo said it was too early to compare teams when asked whether this group of players was better than the one that tasted victory on grand final day in 2015.
"There's a lot of water to go under the bridge before we can start making comparisons to last year," he said.
"What I do know about this team is that they turn up every day prepared to train hard and work hard. That's been the most pleasing thing.
"Today we didn't play as well as we have in the past couple of weeks but they kept digging in for each other, and whatever setback was thrown at them, they kept turning up.
"It's a different team to last year. Last year's team was very special, but this team is making a path for itself. I don't know where we’re at at the moment but we'll find out more about ourselves in the next few months."