“I’m not used to fans. I was probably a bit emotional. I’m glad I didn’t do what I felt like.”
There is plenty of feeling between the teams. For proof, look no further than the full-time siren, which prompted one of many scuffles. For some reason, every Tiger wanted to take out the mild-mannered Edwards. Luke Garner was placed on report on the buzzer for a dubious tackle, while Joey Leilua was sin-binned for picking on the fullback moments earlier.
The Panthers kept their cool amid the madness. Their reward is a third consecutive win, 19-12 at Bankwest Stadium, and second spot on the competition ladder. Stephen Crichton’s two tries proved crucial. They are the big improvers from last season.
Michael Maguire doesn’t do five-year plans. Nor is he a believer in rebuilds. A strong case could be made for both after he inherited a job that Ivan Cleary failed to finish. Instead he is making the best with what he has got. His side is also on the up but on this occasion fell short.
“After the Titans game I spoke about the need to change the club,” Maguire said.
“We weren’t where we need to be and I had to make some tough calls about the changes. I’ve seen what this team is capable of and we saw that tonight. They are a very capable team … There’s a lot of great things going on around the team. We’ve taken another step forward with the things I’m talking about. We should be higher than where we are. We’re a better team than what we have shown at times.”
It’s impossible to conduct a buy-of-the-season discussion in which the hookers of both clubs don’t feature prominently. Harry Grant came to the Tigers with just two first-grade matches to his credit. Now he is being talked about as a leading contender for the Queensland No.9 jersey. He was again a standout, involved in many of the brighter passages of play for the Tigers. Given he is on a wage just above the minimum, no one has provided more bang for buck.
Api Koroisau also deserves much of the credit for the Panthers’ turnaround. No hooker in the NRL has run for more metres this season.
With the game on the line, he came up with the decisive play. He burst past tired markers, streaked down-field and delivered a sublime ball for Edwards to score the match winner.
The fans, finally allowed back in greater numbers, had barely taken their seats when there was cause to rise to their feet. Viliame Kikau rang the bell of Luke Garner in one of the first hit-ups of the night. The Tigers forward rose unsteadily and knocked on in the play-the-ball.
Moments later, Crichton was over in the corner after slick hands from Cleary and Jarome Luai. It was a setback the Tigers almost overcame.
Again, the attrition rate was high. Sam McIntyre was taken to hospital by ambulance after failing to return from a head-injury assessment. A medicab was called when Koroisau hit Luciano Leilua as he was attempting to dive over the try line. As Koroisau was being placed on report, big brother Joey Leilua took exception to the tackle and almost sparked a melee.
Panthers winger Brian To’o hobbled off late, while Moses Mbye and Grant soldiered on after receiving treatment for injuries at half-time.
There has been a lot of focus on Nathan Cleary, be it from the media or opposition defences, but it would be wise to also keep a watchful eye on Luai. The pivot has been a wonderful foil for the Blues halfback, with his short kicking game a highlight at Bankwest Stadium. When his boot didn’t create a try, as was the case when Crichton touched down with his second, his kicks behind the line resulted in a repeat set.
Matt Burton has done little wrong but couldn’t crack the 17. Instead, Tyrone May made his first NRL appearance since the sex-tape scandal. The utility back ran out in the No.21 jersey, for a first game since September 14, 2018. All of a sudden, Penrith have playmakers everywhere.
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.