Missing a plethora of players through injury, suspension and the enforced demotion of Matt Moylan, Waqa Blake and Peta Hiku, Penrith suffered back-to-back losses for the first time this season when an Adam Reynolds field goal with 36 seconds remaining broke the hearts of a largely-stunned crowd of 15,535 to give Souths a 21-20 win in a high quality game at Pepper Stadium.
Skipper Peter Wallace can only look on in despair as Reynolds kicks the match-winner. Credit 77 Media.
Halves Reynolds and Cody Walker did most of the damage in attack, shading the talented but inexperienced Nathan Cleary and Te Maire Martin, largely as a result of Souths’ forwards, led by Sam Burgess and John Sutton being able to dominate Penrith up the middle and were entitled to win the game much earlier than they did.
The Panthers did well to stay in the game and draw level with three minutes remaining when ex-Rabbitoh, Michael Oldfield on debut for his new club, finished off some good lead-up work from recently re-signed centre, Dean Whare to score in the corner and sensationally converted by Cleary.
But a penalty conceded by Leilani Latu, who was deemed to be not playing at the ball in taking out Alex Johnston in defusing yet another spiralling Cleary bomb that gave Braidon Burns a touch of the “Steve Mavins” all night, provided Souths with valuable field position that ultimately led to the match-winning field goal.
Malakai Watene-Zelezniak was impressive on debut. Credit 77 Media.
Griffin easily fielded his most inexperienced line-up of this season to date, with less than 1000 NRL games inexperience between his 17, with the likes of Malakai Watene-Zelezniak (NRL debut), Sione Katoa (1 NRL game), Dylan Edwards and Corey Harawira-Naera (2 games), given a rare opportunity to shine.
But despite the fact that 11 of his 17 has played 50 or less NRL games, Griffin was immensely proud of their effort to stay in the game for as long as they did, given those disruptions through injury and discipline leading into the game.
“Obviously disappointed (by the result) but I thought we showed a tonne of character in the middle of that second half,” Griffin said.
“They had a chance to finish us off a few times but we got ourselves back in the game.
“But unfortunately those last two three minutes the game slipped away.”
Matt Moylan and Waqa Blake can only look on from the stands last night. Credit 77 Media.
Griffin refused to be drawn as to whether the loss could be put down to the tough penalties imposed on the three key players.
“I don’t want to talk about that. We had a team out there tonight representing our club that made the club proud,” Griffin declared.
“The game slipped away from us a couple of times, the first twenty minutes and the middle twenty minutes of the second half especially.
“But we kept coming back and I couldn’t have been happier with the effort, the endeavor and the character that we showed.”
Some indifferent play from Penrith early in the game enabled Souths to get off to a fast start, leading 8-0 in even time from a Reynolds penalty goal, quickly followed by a Sam Burgess try off an Angus Crichton line-break.
But the home side warmed to the task to score the next fourteen points and looked to have gained the ascendancy.
A dream try to Dallin Watene-Zelezniak off an inside pass from his brother Malakai was soon followed by a second try in three games to impressive Kiwi back-rower Corey Harawira-Naera, running a great line off a Cleary pass.
Off-contract back-rower Corey Harawira-Naera was again impressive. Credit 77 Media.
Despite falling further behind after Nathan Cleary's penalty extended the home side's lead to 6, Souths managed to level the scores and head into the break having regained momentum to take into the break, when some smart footwork from Sutton enabled Walker to score out wide.
That momentum continued early into the second half when some second-phase play and a shift left saw Walker fool a sliding Penrith defensive line, stepping back inside with an elusive run before setting up Reynolds for the try to give Souths that six-point lead.
Souths forwards gained the upper hand and their kicking game continually forced Penrith to work play back from deep inside their own half but couldn’t land the killer punch.
Despite being hounded by Robbie Farah, Nathan Cleary regained his composure to force more errors his former team-mate, enabling Penrith to launch their late bid to send the game into golden point before being thwarted by the boot of Adam Reynolds.
The loss sees the Panthers slip out of the top eight and with just two wins from six against lowly Newcastle and Wests Tigers, the pre-season co-competition favourites now face a quick succession of tough games starting with next Sunday’s home clash against defending premiers, Cronulla followed by successive away games away to Parramatta and Brisbane.
Having gone into last night’s game without nine of their top 25 totalling nearly 700 NRL games experience available for selection, Griffin will be sweating on the availability of some of those players for the battles ahead starting with Bryce Cartwright and James Fisher-Harris both being a chance to play next week.
But the Panthers coach isn’t the panic buttons just yet despite facing the real prospect of losing touch with a top-four spot.
“Obviously you’d like to be winning especially in a game like tonight,” Griffin conceded.
“We’re all bad losers, we don’t like losing but I thought we won in a lot of areas tonight.
“We’re building some really good performances and we’ll get stronger from it.
“The season is only a quarter of the way over so there’s a lot of football to go.”
PENRITH 20 (D Watene-Zelezniak, C Harawira-Naera, M Oldfield tries; N Cleary 4 goals) def. by SOUTH SYDNEY 21 (S Burgess, C Walker, A Reynolds tries; A Reynolds 4 goals, 1 field-goal) at Pepper Stadium. Crowd: 15,535. Half-time 14-all. Goal-kickers: N Cleary (Penrith) 4 goals from 4 attempts; A Reynolds (South Sydney) 4 goals from 4 attempts.