Twelve years ago the Penrith Panthers playing the Canberra Raiders would have been the firm favourite for Match of the Round in the 3pm timeslot on a Sunday afternoon. Simmons, Alexander, Geyer and Fittler would have matched up against Meninga, Daley, Stuart and Clyde. Tonight it was a different story out at Penrith Stadium, where a new breed of players including Gower, Wesser, Sattler and Ross lined up with Wiki, Croker, Schifcofske and Drew toughing it out in a good old fashioned game of Rugby League in front of a vigorous crowd of about 15,000 people.
But as the saying goes - the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Penrith and Canberra went at it tonight like two heavyweights in a back alley scuffle. The fight was hard, at times it got ugly, and neither took a backward step. The end score perhaps reflected a change in the game over the past decade or so, with Canberra running out 40-28 victors.
With an obvious emphasis on attack, both teams went into the game trying to consolidate their position on the ladder. Last week the Panthers caused a hug stir upsetting the Roosters and the Raiders have been remarkable in recent weeks, winning four games straight and three on the road. Last year they only managed one away win.
With the stage set, Canberra got away to an early lead though a try to Schifcofske in the 4th minute next to the posts. There was some doubt involved, but the video referee, who gave the green light, quickly dispelled it. Schifcofske converted for a 6-0 lead.
Shortly after Simon Woolford left the field with a corked thigh and it was all one-way traffic for a while with Penrith advancing to a 22-6 lead at the 33-minute mark. Tries to Ben Ross, Rhys Wesser and Joe Galuvao saw Penrith take what looked to be a match winning lead before a Phil Graham intercept try bought the scores back to 22-10 at halftime.
This seemed to be somewhat of a turning point in the game, with the Raiders heading to the sheds looking a lot better than they should have. Matt Elliot obviously had a few words to say at halftime, because the Raiders that came out in the second half looking a lot sharper and more determined. By contrast, Penrith seemed to fall away and looked more like they were trying to defend a lead than extend a lead.
In what was an exception to the final stanza, Craig Gower jumped in from dummy half in the 42nd minute after some neat work from the Penrith forwards, and quick goal by Preston Campbell took the Panthers out to a 28-12 at which point they should never have lost.
Nevertheless, when you are playing well, things go your way. After a lack of possession and tough penalty count in the first half, the Canberra team rallied to a remarkable victory in the second half of the game that looked very unlikely at one point. Penrith lost after they appeared to take an easy approach towards the Raiders in the second half.
Three quick tries to Canberra from McClinden, Wiki and Martin took the Raiders to a 32-28 lead after Schifcofske kicked two conversions. The game was then poised for about 10 minutes with both teams having chances to take the game.
But it was the Raiders who finally scored through little known Terry Martin and then again to Jamaal Lolesi to seal the match in the 79th minute. With the final score standing at 40-28, the Raiders proved they could not only win away from home, but they can score points and come from behind as well. With four wins from as many starts, the Green Machine is looking like the real deal.
League Unlimited Player of the Year Awards
3 points - Clinton Schifcofske 2 points - Reuben Wiki 1 points - Rhys Wesser