April 29, 2018 by admin
It was the victorious farewell they so desperately wanted to deliver to their departing teammates.
As club legend Luke Lewis, electrifying fullback Michael Gordon and tireless five-eighth Travis Burns bowed out of Centrebet Stadium in their last home game before leaving the club, the Penrith Panthers outclassed the Gold Coast Titans to send their three exiting stars off with an impressive 36-22 win.
The Panthers snuck in a try just before half-time to lead 18-12 at the break before piling on three stylish tries in the final 20 minutes of the match to ensure the departing trio bid their faithful fans goodbye in a triumphant manner.
”I was pretty happy with that,” coach Ivan Cleary said of the Panthers’ performance.
”There’s plenty of things you could probably pick at but I thought the best part about it was that it was 18-16 in the second half for quite a long time, the game was really in the balance, there wasn’t much stoppages of play and the game was in a bit of an arm-wrestle, and certainly they [the Titans] had a lot to play for and for us to come out the end of that, I thought was a really encouraging sign.”
While the Panthers finals hopes were extinguished weeks ago, Cleary said he was proud of the side’s on-going commitment to ending their season on a high.
”It’s been a while now where we’ve known we couldn’t make the finals so I’ve got to give credit to our boys, the effort has always been there all through that period,” Cleary said.
”I think anytime you play the last game at home there’s a bit of nostalgia about it- players are leaving and just for the team itself, it’s the last chance to put on a good show in front of the faithful.
”I’ve got to say, certainly in the first half of the year, our performances at home weren’t good enough but we definitely got better and it’s good to see the fans happy.”
Having now won four of their past six games, Penrith captain Kevin Kingston credited the Panthers’ strengthened defence for their improved results at the back end of the season.
”What you saw of that attack today, I knew we could always do that but stopping them from scoring and turning them away was a big part of why we weren’t going so well so we did that today.”
While terrorising the Titans, Kingston became the first Panther in the club’s history to make 1000 tackles in a season and Cleary was full of praise for Kingston after his hard-hitting achievement.
”Kevvy has had a great season,” Cleary said.
”He’s played 80 minutes close to every game and he hasn’t done that for a few years.
”He has been the glue in our team, consistently coming up with high numbers in defence and playing his part in attack as well.
”Not only that, he’s taken on the job as captain and he’s been getting better and better at that as well, so hats off to Kevy, he’s had a terrific season.”
While Kingston, who took the captaincy reigns earlier this season after Lewis was relieved of the duties, hasn’t been confirmed as the team’s captain in 2013, Cleary was a vocal advocate of the 29-year-old continuing in the role.
”It’s looking hard to take off him,” Cleary said.
”Our team is definitely in a position where we need to grow some leadership and how we do that, I’ll have to think about that in the future, but Kevvy has done a very good job in difficult circumstances and as I said, he’s getting better at it, so it’s certainly a good sign.”
As for fullback turned five-eighth Lachlan Coote remaining in the No. 6 jumper next year, Cleary said it was a likely possibility.
”There’s no reason so far that I’ve seen why he wouldn’t be,” Cleary said.
”He’s come into the job at the 11th hour- he played fullback the whole time in first grade before that- but he’s still a young man trying to learn the trade at 6 playing first grade and that’s not easy to do.
”He will certainly go into this pre-season with that in mind, up-skilling that position, and I think what he’s done so far will be a valuable experience for him.”
After the full-time hooter sounded, Lewis did a lap of honour around the Centrebet Stadium field and Kingston described the post-match celebration as ”very special”.
”He spoke to us during the week and you could see the passion in his eyes,” Kingston said.
”He really wanted to play the backend of the season, especially in front of his home crowd.
”Obviously he’s leaving but he’s a legend at Penrith so nothing is going to change that- and we drew energy off that, seeing the passion in his eyes, and you could see that out there in defence today.”
The Titans opened the scoring when hooker Matt Srama sent winger David Mead flying over in the corner in the second minute.
Skipper Scott Prince nailed the conversion and the Titans established an early 6-0.
Penrith attempted to hit back quickly when lock Nigel Plum barged over for a try in the fifth minute but the video referee deemed that he had been held up and disallowed the effort.
It wasn’t long before the Panthers were raiding their line again, however, with Luke Walsh sending Brad Tighe charging 50 metres down the field to score in the seventh minute.
Sharpshooter Walsh slotted the conversion and the scores were locked at 6-all.
Breezing through the Panthers defence, Prince cruised over the line in the 21st minute before converting his own try and delivering the Titans a 12-6 lead.
Speedster Tighe picked up his second try of the match when Clint Newton executed a swift offload and sent him racing 25 metres down the field to score in the 33rd minute.
Walsh converted and the scores were once again level at 12-all.
A blistering Michael Jennings chased down a Luke Walsh grubber to pounce over the line and give the Panthers their first lead of the game in the 38th minute.
Another Walsh conversion bolstered Penrith to an 18-12 advantage at half-time.
Early in the second half, the Panthers battled to retain the lead and a William Zillman try in the 46th minute reduced the Titans’ deficit to 18-16.
But the Panthers finished the latter half in spectacular fashion, scoring three four-pointers in the last 20 minutes.
Crafty winger Josh Mansour was first to extend the Panthers lead after Jennings sent Mansour racing down the sideline before he fired a chip kick, which was picked up by Jennings, who returned the ball to Mansour to complete the 55 metre effort in the 60th minute.
Second-rower Matt Robinson sent Jennings powering over the line two minutes later before Tighe bagged his third try of the game after winger David Simmons defused a Titans’ cross field kick and sent the hat-trick bound flyer 55 metres down the field to score in the 72nd minute.
A defensive lapse allowed Titans second-rower Mark Minichiello to find space and race over the line in the 77th minute but it was too late for the visitors to orchestrate an effective comeback.
Prior to the Panthers’ victory, the club’s Toyota Cup side thumped the Titans 78-0 to equal the record for the biggest ever winning margin in a Toyota Cup game.
The Panthers play their final game of the season against the Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night. Kick-off is at 7.35pm.
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