There’s something about these moments in the NRL when East meets West and tonight was another chapter in that on-going history between these two sides.
As has often been the case in these games, it has been a favourite son that has often come “home” to roost.
Brad Fittler, Matt Sing, Michael Jennings and now Michael Gordon.
The man affectionately known as “Flash” has had many great moments as a Panther.
Many of them at this very ground.
Tonight was again another highlight for the fullback playing for his third NRL club in as many years.
But who would have scripted that at 33, Gordon would not only score two tries including the ultimate match-winner but would come up with the clutch play with that last ditch try-saving albeit somewhat questionably high tackle on a rampant Tyrone Peachey just as he set course to score what would have given the home side arguably two deserved competition points.
But sentiment alone doesn’t win you games especially on a night where the 50/50 calls failed to go the way of these young Panthers, especially with some questionable at-best officiating that culminated with a Latrell Mitchell forward pass in the lead-up to Gordon’s try that somehow was missed by all and sundry just minutes earlier.
It would have been easy after the game for Panthers coach Anthony Griffin to complain about the lack of calls going their way, but refused to do so instead preferring to acknowledge the efforts of his young side, whom he thought had played their best game of the season to date despite the loss.
“I was really proud of the team in the way they just kept coming in that game,” Griffin said.
“Tonight we were better than last week and last week we were better than the first week.
“Obviously on the night we got beat with points on the scoreboard but I thought it was a really good effort and something we’ll be able to build on.
“We’ll learn from that, get our execution right and we’ll be better for it at the back-end of
There was plenty to like about Penrith’s execution early on in the first half, especially when Matt Moylan conjured up one of the plays of the season to date, with a no-look cut-out flick pass that enabled Peachey to get outside Shaun Kenny-Dowall and score in the left corner.
Moylan later admitted the pass was nothing more than a fluke.
“It was a hail May,” Moylan conceded.
“Peachey did a good job to score. I just tried to pass the ball and lucky it come off. It was a fluke."
The Roosters were well contained for the most of the opening half but hit back with two tries in the closing ten minutes, exploiting the inability of Penrith’s right-edge defence to cope with the loss of James Fisher-Harris to injury to score back-to-back tries through Gordon and Mitchell to fortuitously lead 10-8 at the break.
Griffin later confirmed that the Kiwi back-rower had suffered a fractured cheekbone and likely to be out for the next few weeks at least and acknowledged the injury was initially exploited by the Roosters before recovering to almost pull off the win.
“It’s not ideal but they’re the cards that you’re dealt with,” Griffin admitted.
“We made some technical errors there defensively on the right side in that little period at the back-end of the first half and they were good enough to pick that out.
“We dealt with that (at half-time, moving Yeo to the right edge) and I thought overall we
were very unlucky.
“But that’s what happens at this level. We’ve obviously got some areas to work on but I thought even though we had to overcome James’ injury we did a really good job to just about hold that game.
“We nearly pulled off a win tonight without the ball I think they had 58% time in possession.
“They got their tries in funny ways. The one in second half was just one of them tries that scored against you.
“I just feel really sorry for the players. They didn’t get feel that tonight but we’ll build on that and we’ll feel it another time.
The Panthers regained the lead midway through the second half through two more penalty goals to Nathan Cleary but one sensed the game was still up for the grabs as the home side failed to capitalise on key attacking moments during the half.
Watene-Zelezniak, in his first game of the season, particularly had two moments he would have liked to have had again.
Firstly the Kiwi international winger came up agonisingly short in attempting a spectacular put-down in the right corner, before passing the ball into touch just minutes later just as the Panthers had been awarded another set-of-six and deep on the attack.
The Panthers dodged a bullet when a Jarrod Waera-Hargreaves try was denied by the Bunker after Kenny-Dowall was adjudged to have touched the ball into Peta Hiku in contesting the cross-field kick.
But so too had the Roosters when Penrith’s Waqa Blake looked to have scored the match-winner in the left corner after Kenny-Dowall and Gordon were involved in a terrible mix-up off Cleary’s spiralling bomb that nearly brought back the rain that has plagued Sydney all week.
But again the Bunker albeit correctly, denied the try much to the amazement of the 11,044 crowd, having ruled that Moylan and particularly Peachey were offside at the kick and inside the ten metres when the ball was played at.
The call proved doubly crucial minutes later when officiating went amiss in awarding Gordon’s second and ultimately match-winning try of the night, when that forward pass to Daniel Tupou was badly overlooked in the lead-up.
(All photos Credit 77 Media)
For Penrith, Trent Merrin was arguably the best on field, having played 73 minutes
straight, and at one-point led the way in both metres gained (154) and tackles made (44) before he was replaced.
Griffin acknowledged Merrin’s efforts before going on to praising the efforts of his entire pack to all but cover Fisher-Harris’ early departure.
“I thought he was outstanding,” Griffin said.
“He hasn’t played a lot of footy Trent.
“He didn’t get much work in the first game given he was standing on the goalposts most of the game that day.
“Last week he had about fifty minutes and tonight he went 73 minutes straight and that will do him the world of good.
“In fact I thought our forward pack was outstanding.
“There were two really good forward packs going at each other all night and I felt our forwards did the job.”
The question now is who replaces James Fisher-Harris in the back-row given Bryce Cartwright (severe bone-bruising) is certainty to play next Friday night's home game against Newcastle?
A selection headache of a different kind for Griffin looms.
PENRITH 12 (T Peachey try; N Cleary 4 goals) def. by SYDNEY ROOSTERS 14 (M Gordon 2, L Mitchell tries; M Gordon goal) at Pepper Stadium. Crowd: 11,044. Half-time Sydney 10-8. Goal-kickers: N Cleary (Penrith) 4 goals from 4 attempts; M Gordon (Sydney) 1 goal from 3 attempts.