The Panthers were impressive, and have temporarily gained top spot on the premiership ladder to show, but an error plagued Rabbitohs wouldn’t have to look further than their own backyard to uncover the roots of their comprehensive loss.
Held scoreless to the half, Adam Reynolds breathed fire into the contest when he put Bayley Sironen over the line to cut the Penrith lead to two. The Souths hope-inducing purple patch was bought to a premature end courtesy of a Dylan Edwards try.
Precious Rabbitohs field position fell victim to early set errors time and time again late in the piece. James Roberts and Latrell Mitchell’s sin-binnings only compounded their woes and opened the door for a late Nathan Cleary try.
The relationship between Latrell Mitchell and fullback had been flourishing with each passing week, but it took a backwards step with three tackle breaks the most flattering figure on a stat-line that included four errors. The coveted Damien Cook-Cody Walker pairing also misfired for the out of sorts Rabbitohs.
Penrith’s left edge was potent early. A Viliame Kikau cut out pass gave Brent Naden space wide to gain valuable metres and open up the Rabbitohs defence early in the set. When Naden was bought to ground, he kept his toe in the field of play by no more than a millimetre, crucially keeping the set alive. Kikau was involved again, contesting a pinpoint Nathan Cleary bomb and deflecting the ball back to Jarome Luai who put Naden over the line for the opening try.
Viliame Kikau exhibiting his strength and power
Owning the game, a second Panthers try was inevitable. Naden looked a certainty to secure his brace, but was denied by a desperate Jaydn Su’A tackle. The four pointer eventually came courtesy of another Luai assist, this time via foot as Stephen Crichton narrowly beat Dane Gagai to ground the grubber in-goal.
The 8-0 scoreline would remain until the half, but not without the Rabbitohs wasting their best chance of the night. With a three on one streaming home, all Alex Johnston had to do was hit one of his two infield support runners. He hit Braidon Burns, but with a forward pass. Souring a potential two point deficit against the run of play.
After the half, Souths were improved, but still far from their best. Crafty Adam Reynolds play finally opened their account, looking left then passing back in right to open the hole for Bayley Sironen’s first NRL try.
If they could find some fluency, the Rabbitohs looked a big chance of stealing a win in the same fashion Parramatta did two weeks ago, but it wasn’t to be.
Dylan Edwards gave Penrith their third, a little too easily. He effortlessly palmed off Burns and strolled left then right, Souths giving him plenty of time to weigh up his options before he threw an unconvincing dummy that did the job.
Cleary horribly shanked the conversion attempt to make it his third straight miss, raising questions of whether the lump square between his eyes – later revealed to be cellulitis that saw him hospitalised during the week – was affecting his vision.
Penrith were hounding the Rabbitohs defence, and it culminated with Roberts tackling Crichton off the ball. Earning himself a spell in the sin-bin and Nathan Cleary his first goal of the night to stretch the Panther lead beyond a converted try.
Nathan Cleary took plenty of post-kicking contact
A Cameron Murray error on the second tackle with seven minutes remaining, handed the win to Penrith on a silver platter.
Latrell Mitchell denied Naden with a try saving tackle, but held on to the winger for too long and joined Roberts in the sin-bin, amplifying the struggles of his lackluster night.
Reduced to just 11 men, it was easy pickings for Nathan Cleary who burst through the depleted line to ice the victory.
Johnston got nothing more than a consolation try for Souths in the final minutes, making the scoreline a little easier on the eyes of the Rabbitohs faithful.
Wayne Bennett’s men are no certainty to be in the eight by the close of the weekend, and ball security will be their number one priority during the week.
Penrith have walked away from a challenging three week stretch with two wins. Led by Nathan Cleary tonight, they locked up good ladder position regardless of whether they hold on to top spot.