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The Penrith Panthers have beaten the Parramatta Eels 40-22 in front of a sold out Penrith Football Stadium to become the 2003 Minor Premiers.
The match always promised to provide plenty of drama and it didn?t disappoint when just 2 minutes in Ryan Girdler was sin binned for a professional foul. The Eels took full advantage, running in 2 tries to lead 10-0.
The Panthers managed to stem the flow of attack from the Eels and hit back through a double from Rhys Wesser. A double which saw the Panthers flyer break Brett Mullin?s record for most tries scored in a season by a fullback.
The Eels led again briefly but their spirits looked to be broken when two more Panthers tries saw them trail 24-16 at half time with a 28 point win and a finals spot looking near impossible.
Penrith put themselves further ahead after the break as Wesser, Rodney and Rooney all found their way over the try line. Parramatta?s only joy of the second half came in the 68th minute when Hindmarsh scored but by then the realisation had set in that their season was over.
The win for Penrith will see them return to the same venue next week in a home semi-final against the Brisbane Broncos. It will be the first time they have played finals football since 2000 but with the Broncos on a streak of 7 losses in a row the Panthers chances look very good.
On the other hand it?s an early start to the off season for the Parramatta Eels. For the first time since 1996 they will not be taking part in the semi-finals but with a slow start and an injury plagued season they will be mildly content with their 9th place finish.
PANTHERS 40 Tries: Wesser 3, Gower, Swain, Rodney, Rooney Goals: Girdler 6/7 Defeated EELS 22 Tries: Moodie, Lyon, Dykes, Hindmarsh Goals: Witt 3/4
Sunday 7 September 2003 3:00 PM Penrith Football Stadium Referee: Sean Hampstead Video Referee: Tim Mander
Leagueunlimited.com players of the match: 3 ? C Gower (Panthers) 2 ? R Wesser (Panthers) 1 ? S Sattler (Panthers)
By the clock: 0 min: Kickoff! The Eels need to win by 28 points today to push the Broncos out of the top 8 while a win for Penrith will see them take the Minor Premiership.
1st min: NEWS - Its all drama in the early stages of this match. In their first set, Parramatta made a big break through John Morris. Ryan Girdler made a professional foul and has been sin binned.
7th min: TRY - Eels. Parramatta continued their wave of attack sending Moodie over in the corner. The video referee was called on to check if Moodie was in touch when he grounded the ball and the benefit of the doubt went the way of the Eels. Witt converts - Eels 6-0.
9th min: TRY - Eels. The Eels are making breaks all over the field now. This time Hopkins went through the line and offloaded to Jamie Lyon who scored. Witt fails to converts - Eels 10-0.
13th min: TRY - Panthers. Whatuira made a break, stepped in-field and offloaded for Rhys Wesser who sped away to hit back for the Panthers. Girdler converts - Eels 10-6.
15th min: NEWS - David Vaealiki looks to have strained a hamstring and is off the field for Parramatta. Ryan Girdler is back from the Sin Bin for the Panthers and that last try for Rhys Wesser sees him equal the record of most tries scored in a season by a fullback.
20th min: TRY - Panthers. Pulatua offloaded on the outside for Rhys Wesser who had an easy passage to the line to score his second try of the match. Girdler converts - Panthers 12-10.
22nd min: TRY - Eels. Parramatta got the ball off Penrith from an illegal strip missed by the officials. From the following set Dykes threw a dummy and went in under the posts for a very soft try. Witt converts - Eels 16-12.
24th min: NEWS - Wesser's last try sees him break Brett Mullins' record of most tries scored in a season by a fullback.
31st min: NEWS - This match is being played a frenetic pace from one end to the other. The Eels are playing the better football of the two sides but would be better served slowing things down to ensure they don't give away possession to the Panthers.
34th min: NEWS - Rhys Wesser is down in back play for the Panthers with cramping in both legs.
36th min: TRY - Panthers. Craig Gower threw a dummy, pushed off Adam Peek and bet Wagon and Prince to score a soft try. Girdler converts - Panthers 18-16.
39th min: TRY - Panthers. After repeat sets on the Eels line the Panthers finally scored. The Big Luke Swain showed a good step as he powered his way over the line for a try that could break the back of Parramatta. Girdler converts - 24-16.
HALF TIME: Parramatta started the half like a house on fire. With the Panthers a man down after just 2 minutes the Eels went ahead 10-0. The tide quickly turned with Girdler back on the field with the Panthers gaining ascendancy and by half time have taken control of the match.
41st min: The second half is underway!
43rd min: TRY - Panthers. Rhys Wesser went from dummy half and straight through the line to sprint 60 metres to score one of the best individual tries this season. Girdler fails to converts - Panthers 28-16.
48th min: NEWS - The official crowd for today's match is 22,304 which is a ground record for the Penrith Football Stadium.
49th min: NEWS - Parramatta's Adam Peek has been sent off for taking Girdler late and high. The replay showed that the point of contact was around the shoulders which should've just been given a penalty because of the lateness of the tackle.
51st min: TRY - Panthers. With the Eels a man down the Panthers knew they just had to send it out wide. The ball came to Sattler who made space for Rodney to score. Girdler converts - Panthers 34-16.
59th min: NEWS - The match has slowed down as Parramatta now realise that their season is over needing to score 42 points in 21 minutes.
63rd min: TRY - Panthers. Penrith spread the ball out wide to Rooney who stepped in-field past two Parramatta defenders to score. Girdler converts - Panthers 40-16.
68th min: TRY - Eels. Michael Witt got a great ball away to Nathan Hindmarsh who ran 20 metres to score a consolation try for Parramatta. Witt converts - Panthers 40-22.
73rd min: NEWS - Tony Pulatua has a ligament strain to his right knee but is expected to be alright for next weeks semi-final against the Broncos.
FULL TIME: The Panthers have come home strong in this match as they prepare for finals football and to live up to their new title as the 2003 Minor Premiers.