A fast track and mild sunny weather provided ideal footy conditions for today’s clash between Wenty and Penrith at Ringrose Park. With only two losses for the season, the Panthers entered this round in second spot on the table, whereas the Magpies were clinging to eighth position with a four from nine record.
Proceedings began with a minute’s silence in memory of Denis “Big D” Anderson. Both teams and match officials lined up across the field in recognition of the Eels legend and the tribute added a sense of occasion to the afternoon.
And Wenty didn’t disappoint.
The match was only three minutes old when Jaeman Salmon put on a left foot step to break the line just into Penrith’s half, draw the fullback, then put Bevan French over next to the posts. French converted the try to put the Magpies up by 6 to nil.
Just ten minutes later, Salmon again stamped his class on the game. After a series of Wenty offloads that didn’t seem to be heading anywhere, the young five-eighth took the ball to the line and found a rampaging Salesi Fainga’a running a great line. In turn, Fainga’a charged towards the line then delivered a terrific offload in the fullback’s tackle to put Ethan Parry across for the Magpies second try. The conversion from French took the score to 12 nil after only 14 minutes.
The action came thick and fast not long after. A long cut out pass to an unmarked Greg Leleisiuao five metres out from the Panthers line proved too difficult for the winger to handle, and the dropped ball provided the visitors with a 20 metre tap. Within a couple of plays, the Panthers had cut the retreating defence to shreds, with their right winger in open space for a certain try.
However, it was not so certain in Ethan Parry’s mind.
The big centre chased the Panther’s winger to the line before launching himself into a tackle which dislodged the ball. It was the perfect example of never giving up.
With the play going end to end, it would be the Panthers who would strike next. A contested kick inside the Wenty quarter earned Penrith a scrum feed and the sustained pressure proved too great for the home team. A shift to the right saw the Panthers centre, McGrady, cross out wide. An unsuccessful conversion left the score at 12 to 4 with fifteen minutes remaining in the half.
The Panthers defence were doing a good job holding out the Magpies attack and it would be a penalty goal that would provide the next score change. French’s kick from directly in front of the posts extended the lead to 14 to 4 with less than ten minutes to go till oranges.
Just when it seemed that the scoring was finished for the half, the Panthers demonstrated why they are sitting near the top of the table. After punching holes through the middle in a great set of six, a clean break was rewarded with a try to Fearnley next to the posts. Fortunately for the Magpies, the close range conversion hit the posts and the teams went to the sheds with Wenty leading by 14 to 8.
The first 20 minutes of the second half were a bit of a scrappy period, marked by penalties and incomplete sets from both teams.
With about 15 minutes remaining the match again came to life.
A late hit on French after a kick saw the Magpies extend their lead to 16 to 8 via a Brad Keighran penalty goal. This only seemed to spark the Panthers into action.
After regaining possession from a short kick off, Penrith parlayed this into a repeat set with a well earned penalty, before Martin crossed the line following a shift to the left on the last tackle. Goal kicking was proving to be Penrith’s Achilles heel with the conversion again failing.
At 16 to 12 with less than ten minutes left, the match was on a knife’s edge – but the result would not be decided until the final seconds.
Though one would have expected Wenty to tuck the ball under the arm with possession in the Penrith quarter, and less a minute remaining, the Magpies instead moved the ball. The rewards were theirs with a Greg Leleisiuao in-field charge proving impossible for the Panthers to defend. The unsuccessful conversion saw a final score of 20 to 12.
In a match that saw the forwards do their job, and the backs deliver the big moments, there were plenty of positives to find for Wenty as a team. Their intensity was worthy of a match against a top of the table team, and though the execution wasn’t always perfect, the effort achieved the result.
From an individual perspective, best on field would have been shared by French (in the captain’s role today) Salmon and Minhinnick. Special mentions were also deserved by Parry and Fainga’a.
For Eels supporters interested in Oregon Kaufusi, the big fella churned out a solid 50 minutes. With Brad Arthur dropping him back to Wenty to get some longer minutes under his belt, this will hopefully signal his return to the top grade.
Wenty 20 – Tries: French, Parry, Leleisiuao Goals: French 3, Keighran 1
Panthers 13 – Tries: McGrady, Fearnley, Martin