Villiame Kikau has capped off his 100th first-grade game with a double and a classy performance as the Penrith Panthers continued their undefeated start to season 2022 with a win over the St George Illawarra Dragons at Nestrata Jubilee Stadium. It was an emotional night for all in attendance with Norm Provan's illustrious career being honoured before kick-off with the grandstand being re-named in his honour.
It was a frantic and scrappy start by both sides with Penrith crossing twice early through Izack Tago before having both denied by the Bunker. It took a charge down from Villiame Kikau to collect the opening points. St George Illawarra quickly composed themselves through their leader Ben Hunt nailing an inch-perfect 40/20 setting the Dragons up in an attacking position. Again, it was Ben Hunt with an inch-perfect kick finding fullback Tyrell Sloan and the Dragons were back on even terms.
St George Illawarra's luck quickly ran out when Jadyn Su'A was sin-binned for a controversial late tackle on Penrith halfback Sean O'Sullivan (who was forced off by the bunker but allowed to return to the field). St George looked fatigued and panicked conceding two quickfire tries and a penalty goal when Su'A was off the field. Firstly, through rampaging front-rower Spencer Leniu who ran onto an inside pass from Api Koroisau to retake the lead. The next-time Penrith were down that end, Jarome Luai threw a lovely short-ball to the milestone man Villiame Kikau to put the score out to 20-6 at half-time.
When the sides came out for the second half, injuries struck both sides with the Dragons losing dummy-half Andrew McCulloch to a suspected dislocated elbow while Brian To'o left the field with a knee injury midway through the second half. Rampaging prop James Fisher-Harris only got through 25 minutes so there may be some injury concerns over JFH. Penrith lacked mongrel when he departed.
Jadyn Su'A was quick to repay his team for his "dumb" sin-binning and took a lovely short ball from Talatau Amone and the Dragons quickly got back to a two-possession game at 20-12. The same problems continued for the Dragons when Zac Lomax continued his horror evening and was sin-binned for a professional foul near the try-line. However, the Dragons held firm on this occasion and denied the Panthers on this occasion showing an impressive resolve that was missing at times last season.
The injury surveillance bunker was put back in the headlines when Jack Bird played for a penalty inside the final 10 minutes. The bunker's independent doctor ruled that Bird had to be taken from the field. St George Illawarra managed a late try through lovely lead-up work from Francis Molo offloading the ball out the back and Moses Mbye put a grubber kick and Zac Lomax had a room-service bounce to put the score within 4 points.
Despite last-ditch efforts from the Dragons, they didn't have the finesse required to defeat the defending premiers but they shouldn't be disheartened by their efforts. They take on the Sharks next week for the Monty Porter Cup while the Panthers take their home game to Carrington Park, Bathurst and take on the Newcastle Knights.