A potentially second successive season-ending knee injury to Kiwi international prop Sam McKendry has soured an otherwise strong performance by an Tyrone Peachey-inspired Penrith in defeating local rivals Parramatta, 18-6 at Pepper Stadium tonight.
In a cruel twist of fate, McKendry who had tweeted earlier during the day how much he looking forward to his first game back since rupturing the ACL in his left knee in last year's Round 17 clash against the Tigers, had only been on the field for a matter of minutes, when an attempted tackle late in the first half all went wrong for the prop forward.
A fiery entrance to welcome in the 2017 season at Pepper Stadium. Credit: 77 Media.
After the game, a somber Panthers coach Anthony Griffin, who having already lost Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to a MCL knee injury that will keep him sidelined until Round Two-Three, confirmed that despite some hope, scans on Monday are expected to confirm the worse.
"We still hold out some hope it might not be the ACL," Griffin said.
"I thought watching it was more a knee clash than a bend of the knee.
"But the doctor thinks its possible that he's done his ACL and we'll wait and see tomorrow or Monday what they (results) say when we get him scanned.
"It's terrible (for Sam) but that's the game we're in.
"Everyone's fit and well one day then next day you've got a couple of injuries but that's rugby league."
The injury certainly overshadowed a otherwise strong performance from the home side, who came home the better in the second half after both sides' defences dominated the opening half to the leave the game scoreless at the break.
Tyrone Peachey backed up a strong effort in last week's All-Stars performance with a starring performance in both attack and defence, leaving his coach to all but declare the City Origin representative as a certain starter in the centres for the Round One clash with St George-Illawarrra.
"Well the other guys have got to get past him," Griffin declared.
"He finished the season last year as a great centre for us.
"His game last week in the All-Stars and then tonight, he's in really good form.
"I'm really happy with that he's doing there."
Tyrone Peachey was a real handful each time he touched the ball. Credit 77 Media.
Griffin was also happy with the way Dean Whare and Peta Hiku played in just their second games back from equally serious knee injuries, particularly Hiku and with the injuries to first-choice wingers Josh Mansour and Watene-Zelezniak, all but confirmed that the pair will play in Round One.
"I was really happy with how Dean and Peta went tonight too," Griffin stated.
"After last week, I think tonight they both looked a little bit more comfortable and a little bit stronger and they've both got through the game really well (especially) Peta, who has had the worse one (knee injury).
"He blew his whole knee out. MCL, PCL and ACL and he's comes back well."
"Losing Dallin and having Josh on the sidelines, obviously we need both those guys."
Te Maire Martin's second half performance has also dispelled any doubts reported during the week that the five-eighth won't be partnering Nathan Cleary in the halves come Round One.
A deft pass from skipper Matt Moylan enabled Martin to burst through the line to score the opening try.
Martin turned provider twice in two consecutive plays to help seal the trial win for Penrith.
The five-eighth enabled Moylan to burst clear only for Cleary to be tackled in support, before putting in a cross-field kick for Whare to catch and score in the right corner to extend the lead to 18-6.
The try came after Bryce Cartwright had combined with Leilani Latu to put Penrith back into the lead with fifteen minutes remaining, after Bevan French had stepped past Martin to level the scores for Parramatta midway through the second half, which was not lost on Griffin, when assessing his chances of playing in Round One.
"He went good, he's gaining in confidence," Griffin said.
"I thought the longer the game went the better he got.
"He was starting to build a little bit of combination with Matt (Moylan) and Nathan (Cleary).
"We only wanted to give him one half of football last week, so this week he got to play a bit longer with Nathan.
"He handled that OK in attack, but he still has a couple of areas to work on as we all do in this competition at this time of year.
"But I think he'll get a little bit of confidence out of that second half."
Te Maire Martin's second half efforts ensures his spot in the halves for Round One. Credit 77 Media.
Despite the win, Griffin says his team has plenty to work on if they are to get the two competition points at Kogarah Oval in two weeks' time.
"I'm not overly happy but you never are this time of year," Griffin said.
"I thought we were pretty loose out there at times with the ball, particularly late in the game.
"St George-Illawarra at home at Kogarah, they're very hard to beat there.
"I'm sure they've had a big off-season and got some new people there.
"The early rounds of the season are about getting in there and trying to kick and scratch to find a couple of points every week."