Penrith coach Ivan Cleary revealed after his side’s 19-18 loss to Cronulla that he had planned before the season started to rest the club’s Origin stars during the series - but he didn’t expect to have so many players selected.
The Panthers fell to their second consecutive loss without Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai, Isaah Yeo, Brian To’o and Kurt Capewell but Cleary believes they will benefit from the decision not to play them after Wednesday night's series opener.
Only second-rower Liam Martin, who was on the NSW interchange, and Blues 18th man Api Koroisau played against the Sharks. But Cleary believes Penrith will reap benefits later in the season.
"In the long run that is the best for them," Cleary said. "We pretty much made that decision when the draw first came out.
"It was only made harder with the game being up in Townsville and by the fact we had so many guys playing as well. But if it is good for one it should be good for all of them, so it is in the best interests that they rest."
Match Highlights: Sharks v Panthers
After trailing 18-0 at half-time, Penrith fought back to level the scores five minutes before full-time, with five-eighth Matt Burton taking control of the game to score two tries and lay on another for Izack Tago.
A 78th minute Shaun Johnson field goal from long range ended hopes of a late Panthers win but Cleary was happy with what he saw from his side in the second half.
"I was disappointed with our first half. I thought we were beaten in intensity and the Sharks were good enough to take advantage of some possession and momentum," Cleary said.
What a first try to remember for Izack Tago!
"I was happy with the second half and I thought we could have easily won the game, but we probably lost it in the first half. Our kicking game was poor, our chase wasn't great and we were just losing the battle.
"I think Cronulla were perfect in their completion rate (29-29 in first half), their kicking game was good and they were just giving us a bit of a lesson in the basics.
"The second half was completely different. We could have scored six tries I reckon. We feel like we kind of butchered that one in the first half."
Despite back-to-back losses for the first time since late in the 2019 season, Cleary said there were positives to take from the disruptions caused by the Origin period.
"The last couple of weeks just gives you a bit of a look at the team in different situations and with different players playing different spots," he said. "I would prefer if our Origin players were playing every game, but it will definitely help.
Burton has a double and Penrith are right back in it
"It was a great week for our club in that our boys played so well in that arena. It will help their own careers and their own confidence in big games down the track.
"Banking a few wins at the start of the year obviously helps, it is a long season and I feel pretty confident that we will benefit from that later. We won the second half 18-1 so I guess we can take that momentum into next week."