The Penrith Panthers have prowled to their ninth straight victory downing a courageous Cronulla Sharks outfit 20-10, coming back from an early deficit in front of a vocal home crowd at Bluebet Stadium tonight.
It was billed as a semi-final dress rehearsal and the opening exchanges didn't disappoint. Cronulla repeatedly placed Penrith under pressure early and their efforts were rewarded when Nicho Hynes put in a clever cross-field kick which was batted back by Briton Nikora and after silky hands from Jesse Ramien, Connor Tracey stepped inside four Panthers and slammed the footy down for the first try of the evening. Nicho Hynes failed to convert the try from the sideline which was going to be an impressive feat in the wet and windy conditions at the foot of the mountains.
On the back of the next set, Dylan Edwards put down a Matt Moylan bomb which put the Sharks back on the attack. Off the ensuing tackle, Moylan's kick saw him rewarded with a try. Referee Ashley Klein had no hesitations in awarding the try, but replays seemed to suggest he was short of the line. However, Grant Atkins in the Bunker ticked it off and confirmed the try for the Cronulla 5/8 and the Sharks were taking a bite out of the Panthers early. Hynes converted this try and all of a sudden, Cronulla were up 10-0.
But as the match wore on, Penrith started to assert their dominance through strong carries of the footy which repeatedly set the Panthers up in a good attacking position. There was just one small problem, their execution was incredibly poor with many good opportunities going to waste. As the rain continued to tumble, Penrith cashed in off a great pass from Jarome Luai which saw Izack Tago cross for the premiers' first of the evening. A late penalty conceded by the Sharks allowed Cleary to pot over a penalty goal from point-blank range and the Sharks held a narrow but well-deserved two-point lead at half-time.
Craig Fitzgibbon would've been pulling his front teeth out after a poor defensive read saw Penrith fly down their noted left edge with Luai onto Kikau onto Tago onto May before linking up with Dylan Edwards and Penrith hit the lead following a spectacular team try that we've seen so often in 2022. After such a frantic opening to the game, from there both sides struggled in a game of who made the most errors in good attacking opportunities.
Cronulla began to build some pressure and momentum but unfortunately, the final pass wasn't landing in the right arms as Brian To'o intercepted Nicho Hynes' pass and Penrith went right back on the attack which like most of the second 40 amounted to nothing. Dale Finucane ignited fresh energy by putting a monster shot on Stephen Crichton, the two clashed heads and Crichton left to undergo an HIA. But in the final moments, Jarome Luai took a step straight off the left foot and steam-rolls over the top of the Shark's defence to seal their ninth straight victory.
Penrith was scrappy but feisty, these wins will be invaluable for their march to a third straight Grand Final appearance. Cronulla was far from disgraced and are definitely one of the form sides in the competition this season and will definitely match it with Penrith again in the semi-finals. Penrith takes on Parramatta next Friday night and will be desperate for revenge after their Rd 9 upset loss. Cronulla takes on South Sydney as they return home to Pointsbet Stadium.