The most crucial moment of Penrith’s win against Newcastle last Saturday night was not Nathan Cleary’s clutch field goal in Golden Point.
The winning moment actually happened some 26 minutes earlier, when Penrith were eight points behind and had a huge chance to attack Newcastle’s line after being awarded a penalty.
Any other day, taking the tap would be the obvious choice. But coach Ivan Cleary, sensing the game needed a reset, sent the message down to take the two points on offer through a penalty goal. The call put Penrith back within a converted try and ended up being crucial in the context of the game.
It was as obvious to Cleary as it was to anyone at home that his side was not playing to their usual standard against the Knights. When sending the message down to take the two, he knew that not only would Penrith perhaps not score the two required tries to take the lead, but they could concede another and go even further behind.
What happened after that is now in the history books: The Jarome Luai hair pull, the Jaeman Salmon try, Tyson Gamble’s long range one-pointer, and Nathan Cleary’s pair of field goals that confirmed his status as the player you want with the ball when the game is on the line.
Plenty have said Newcastle were the better side on the night and deserved to win. But after their fourth one point game of the year (including the World Club Challenge), the Panthers deserved something to go their way. And that first Golden Point set was something only elite sides can produce.
As much as Ivan Cleary would have expected better from his team, he’ll take something from the fact that they can still play that poorly and somehow win, such is their desire to stay in the grind.
He’ll be just as happy though to put that game behind him and hope for a better showing against South Sydney at Accor Stadium.
Talking about things going your way, the Rabbitohs would surely think the tide will soon turn after losing 10 of their last 11 games against the Panthers, including the 2021 Grand Final.
Penrith won all three encounters last year – including the corresponding match at Accor Stadium where Latrell Mitchell was doing push-ups on the half-way line after a Rabbitohs try, before the Panthers ran his side down.
More importantly, the Panthers took out last September’s Preliminary Final in a match that put them into the Grand Final and on a path to their second consecutive Premiership.
Despite having the wood over the Bunnies, there is no question this is a danger game for the Panthers. Souths have had a seven day turnaround, and the likes of Cody Walker and Mitchell are in dangerous form.
But the loss of Keaon Koloamatangi makes their pack a lot less confronting than it may have been heading into this one. And as much as Penrith are still missing James Fisher-Harris and now Liam Martin again, those filling the holes have more than done the job in recent weeks.
I think Penrith will get the chocolates here, as long as the performance last week was not a sign of things to come. It’ll still be a tight one, but Penrith should roll home late.
Tip: Panthers by 6.
The Panthers and Rabbitohs play at Accor Stadium on Thursday, April 20 at 7.50pm. The game is live on Fox Sports, Kayo and Channel 9.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Breaking News Reporter. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations. In 2023, he was named Editor of the Year at the Mumbrella Publish Awards.