A five-star performance from Dylan Edwards in game number 100 has seen the Penrith Panthers return to the winners' circle with a comprehensive 26-6 victory over the Canberra Raiders at a freezing GIO Stadium tonight, which has seen Raiders coach Ricky Stuart lose it at a Panthers star.
It was billed as a make-or-break game for the Canberra Raiders in an attempt to keep the pressure on the Sydney Roosters to make the finals series. With results going against them earlier this weekend, the Raiders needed to get off to a strong start in this one.
They delivered on their word and after forcing repeat sets on Penrith's line, eventually, the pressure told and off a brilliant short ball from Zac Woolford, big Josh Papali'i crashed over to give the Raider s an early advantage. But, as would become a theme, Canberra failed to complete their set following points and Api Koroisau took full advantage of some sloppy middle defence to get us back level at six apiece.
From there, the rest of the first half was an error-fest with both sides failing to come to terms with the slippery conditions in the nation's capital. Penrith began to take the ascendency and their patience was rewarded when Chris Smith was obstructed off the ball by Hudson Young which allowed Crichton to chip over a penalty goal and give the premiers their first lead of the night.
Off the back of a crusher tackle from Joe Tapine, the Panthers marched right back into scoring position. It was a clever grubber from dominant half Sean O'Sullivan which allowed Stephen Crichton to win the race for the ball. Crichton converted his own try and the lead was eight points.
Canberra wouldn't die wondering in this one, but they were deep in the wars when Tapine departed with a rib injury. Penrith was dealt a blow when James Fisher-Harris was sin-binned for a high shot on Ryan Sutton. The Panthers miraculously held on despite the lack of numbers and heavy defensive workload. There was a scare just before the break when Dylan Edwards clutched his sternum following a big break, but the 100-game maestro toughed it out to half-time where Penrith held a narrow eight-point lead.
The second half started in frantic fashion when Nick Cotric went for an old-fashioned coat-hanger. He survived being sent off and was sin-binned. Penrith made the most of the extra man advantage when they went down their favoured left-hand side and it produced big results. Isaah Yeo and James Fisher-Harris linked up with Sean O'Sullivan who found Scott Sorensen who in turn linked up with Dylan Edwards and the Panthers had a 14-point cushion.
From there, Canberra was unable to penetrate the line of Penrith. Despite several opportunities, Canberra came within inches of scoring but was unable to get the ball across the stripe. Down the other end, Penrith iced the game with fifteen minutes remaining when Jaeman Salmon strolled through some pedestrian Canberra defence to give the Panthers a 20-point winning margin and a strong bounce-back performance after last week's loss. Canberra has probably done their dash in season 2022 and will be on the outside looking in for the run into the finals relying on other results if they want to play finals footy in 2022.
The headaches might continue for the Raiders after coach Ricky Stuart launched a sensational personal attack on Panthers utility Jaeman Salmon in the post-match press conference.
Stuart was incensed after Salmon struck out and hit Tom Starling in the jatz-crackers and the head (both appear to be accidental), the Raiders' boss went on to say the following about Salmon "I know that kid very well. He was a weak gutted dog as a kid and he hasn't changed now, He's a weak gutted dog person now."
It was an extraordinary spray which appears to have taken the pressure off Canberra's poor performance and should be in for some scrutiny from the NRL and the Raiders board.