Penrith can cross Canberra off their scoreless first half hit-list, superb defence going hand-in-hand with lethal attack and laying the foundations for their eighth-straight victory.
The Raiders had all the ball early and came close time and time again: Whitehead scored a try that was disallowed, and Papalii was miraculously held up by five Panthers. But they had no points to show.
The Panthers resisted, resisted, and resisted. It took 10 minutes for their first attacking set, but when the time finally came they pounced without hesitation. Prodigal son Nathan Cleary put Viliame Kikau through the line and there was no stopping the storming second-rower.
Penrith wasted no time piling on the pain: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad faltered under a bomb and Apisai Koroisau made him pay. In the ensuing set Koroisau darted left out of dummy half then quickly retraced his steps; he had Raiders defenders scrambling and a short ball sent Liam Martin over with ease.
Penrith’s third try came courtesy of a Stephen Crichton sneak attack. Jarome Luai stabbed a well-weighted grubber to the in-goal, and Crichton scored a try he had no right to score. Nick Cotric was in front position but it counted for little; Crichton crept up with the pace of a cheetah and slipped his hands onto the loose footy.
On the cusp of half time, Penrith kept pushing on the already-suffocated throats of Canberra. Tyrone May threw a cut-out pass to Brent Naden, who had his sights set on the in-goal. Jordan Rapana delivered a heavy hit, but Naden’s body levitated out of the field of play whilst his palm stamped the exclamation mark on a killer opening.
Take a bow Brent Naden
Early errors threatened to mar any hopes of a Raiders second-half resurgence, but Nicoll-Klokstad stood up. He looked ways away from scoring and had five Panthers hanging off him, but kept driving closer, with the ball miraculously finding the stripe amongst a tangle of arms and legs.
CNK creates something out of nothing
The Panthers took no chances, opting for the two points after a close-range penalty, even with their three-try buffer.
The Raiders continued hounding the line and came up with points courtesy of Nicoll-Klokstad’s never-say-die attitude. Canberra were coming dangerously close to being restricted again by more sublime Penrith defence, but Nicoll-Klokstad produced a deceitful dummy and slid to the in-goal by the barest of margins with Panthers defenders clinging on; he single-handedly kept the Raiders alive.
A last minute penalty goal iced the result for Penrith: the 28-12 win equalling the 2003 club record of eight straight victories.
Nathan Cleary finished with a try assist and line-break assist, but it was his kicking game that was decisive. Viliame Kikau got the wood over opposing number John Batemen, finishing with a try, tackle break and two line-breaks.
Canberra were comprehensively outplayed, but Nicoll-Klokstad was their shining light in his return from injury. He scored both Raiders tries, broke nine tackles, had two line-breaks, and ran 256 metres.
The Raiders showed plenty of their trademark character, but the Panthers were simply on another level. They’re looking very tough to beat, and showcased an all-round masterclass. Their defence was monumental, and they still piled on four tries before the Raiders had troubled the scoreboard.
Canberra didn’t play terribly tonight, and are still in the top four race with upcoming games against Brisbane, the Gold Coast, and Canterbury-Bankstown.
Penrith are looming large; they have established themselves as the competition’s benchmark, if they weren’t already. They humbled a side that had been making a habit of winning against all odds.