No stage fright for Panthers' finals rookies
It was the big question coming into this week's big elimination final: how would Penrith's squad of rookies handle the finals pressure-cooker against Des Hasler's seasoned squad of September veterans?
The answer was a resounding 'just fine, thanks' as Penrith matched Canterbury's intensity in a low-scoring first half before opening their shoulders in the second and taking advantage of an injury-ravaged Dogs outfit to run out convincing 28-12 victors.
The handful of players who had finals experience – like skipper Matt Moylan, wingers Josh Mansour and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, lock Trent Merrin and veteran hooker Peter Wallace – were among the club's best.
But rookies Nathan Cleary and James Fisher-Harris, centre Tyrone Peachey and the likes of Leilani Latu and Isaah Yeo also produced composed efforts in the all-round team effort.
"It was a really good performance, I was really happy with the way we built into that. Just kept our cool with the ball and eventually we found the points we needed," coach Anthony Griffin said afterwards.
"I thought we were pretty good [at handling the occasion], we knew what was coming. It was a final against an experienced side. I don't know if we made too many errors, we were 20 from 21 at half time. I was happy with that."
Griffin said he knew if the Panthers continued to compete the way they did in the first half, points would follow.
"Probably defensively we were a little bit loose in that first half but we tightened that up in the middle and we were sort of confident if we got an equal share of the ball in the second half we'd have some points in us," he added.
"Everyone was nice and calm, we just had to get back out there and peel off another weight of possession."
Asked specifically about how 18-year-old halfback Nathan Cleary handled the occasion, Griffin added: "He was very good again. I thought [the young players] were all good, particularly the middle of that second half when the Bulldogs had that surge at us.
"We were eight or 10 in front and Nathan came up with some great stops in defence against some big men there on his own line. They all did.
"It was a real good mentality that him and Fisher-Harris and all those young blokes had, they really held their hands up defensively."
Skipper Matt Moylan also brushed talk of the side's inexperience even being a factor.
"I thought we were building how we wanted to [in the first half]," Moylan said.
"Just sort of getting into the game and playing off the back of that. We knew there was a long time to go in the game; we didn't want to play catch up footy or start doing anything out of the ordinary."
Griffin wasn't fazed by a shoulder injury that forced centre Waqa Blake off late in the game.
"He's OK, he's just a little bit tender there, we got him off as a precaution at the back end of the game there but he's ok, I don't think there's going to be any issue there," Griffin said of the 21-year-old centre.
Game on. Data off.
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