Penrith coach Ivan Cleary did not look happy in the box – and made his feelings known afterwards.
“It felt like they were being managed back into the game,” Cleary said. “That’s all I can say. There were some really strange calls. But it gave us the opportunity to continue throughout the 80 minutes … in the end, that will only service us well down the track.
Things will go against us. We spoke about that this week. It won’t always be perfect. That will help us.
“Things will go against us. We spoke about that this week. It won’t always be perfect. That will help us.”
Waking up on Sunday knowing his side is first – and without any fresh injuries – will no doubt be some consolation for Cleary.
Nine in a row will depend on what mood the New Zealand Warriors are in next Friday evening.
Penrith’s teen sensation Stephen Crichton continued his amazing try-scoring record, chalking up a 10th in his past eight games.
Crichton, 19, is an excitement machine and fast becoming a fan favourite out west.
When Raiders back-rower John Bateman clocked him with four minutes to go, the supporters who braved the wet but mild conditions took it personally.
Cleary was full of praise for the local junior and said he was impossible to leave out the way he returned after the COVID break.
“He’s been outstanding for us,” Cleary said. “Good things happen around him. It was almost irresistible to not pick him when we returned. He’s certainly repaid that. There’s so much more to come from him.”
Not since their 2003 premiership season have the Panthers strung together so many victories.
The Panthers scored two quick tries before the break through Crichton and Brent Naden. They had all the running and were entitled to come out in the second half and put on a cricket score.
Canberra, however, are tough and were never going to die wondering.
Naden raced onto a lovely Tyrone May cutout pass and leapt into the air before somehow planting the ball down. The young flyer was targeted by the Green Machine most of the night after collecting Canberra legend Jarrod Croker early.
If Naden’s effort was excellent, so was Crichton’s just a few minutes earlier when he won the race to a Jarome Luai grubber. It was the gifted kid’s 12th for the season.
Nick Cotric had no answers as Crichton snuck up on his inside and got both hands to the ball. The Panthers celebrated with Crichton piggy-backing little Luai.
Penrith did not touch the ball for the first six minutes and had made 51 tackles before they ran the ball with anger.
They had not conceded a point in the opening 20 minutes of a game since round one, and were not about to make any exceptions for their visitors.
Kikau scored the first when he stormed onto a Cleary short ball. Kikau and rival back-rower Bateman were enjoying another wonderful individual match-up, complete with big tackles and a facial from the latter.
The Raiders lost another hooker, Siliva Havili, to what looked like an arm injury. Josh Hodgson was already on the sidelines and ruled out for the season.
Losing Bateman before next Saturday night’s clash against Brisbane would be disastrous. Coach Ricky Stuart expected him to be OK.
“I never doubt our character, that’s never the issue, I’m just disappointed with how our first 25 minutes panned out. We’re better than that,” Stuart said.
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Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.