Penrith 10 Canberra 20
Raiders pounce on the Panthers
Sam Mataora cops some heavy defence. Photo: Getty Images
A year ago, Ivan Cleary was preparing the New Zealand Warriors for a shot at the premiership. Today, he will wake up with the task of helping his Panthers avoid the wooden spoon.
Yesterday's 20-10 loss to the Raiders has set up a battle of the west to avoid last place, as the Panthers are stranded at the bottom of the ladder, level on points with Parramatta and kept off 16th spot only by a marginally better differential.
On an afternoon when all the luck seemed to favour the Raiders, Cleary criticised video referee Paul Mellor's decision to award a benefit-of-the-doubt try to Jarrod Croker when his side was in front 6-0 early in the second half.
Panthers winger David Simmons was deemed to have touched a Josh McCrone bomb, despite replays indicating Croker may have knocked it into his hands before grounding the loose ball. Cleary was dumbfounded by the decision by the former first-grader to give the Raiders their first try, which triggered an 18-point flurry for the visitors.
''He must be looking at something different to me, that's how I would say it,'' Cleary said.
''I actually thought it was a no-brainer. I reckon if you look at Jarrod Croker's body language after he grounds it, it often gives you a good indication … It looked like a lot of the players out there expected the red light to come up.''
While Cleary acknowledged it wouldn't have served a purpose on that occasion, he called for the introduction of a referral system that would allow coaches to contest decisions made by the on-field referees.
The referral system will be discussed at a meeting tomorrow between the NRL's rules advisory committee (made up of Ricky Stuart, Mal Meninga, Darren Lockyer, Brian Smith, Cleary, John Lang, Daniel Anderson and NRL operations manager Nathan McGuirk).
While they didn't look like a top-eight team yesterday, Canberra still managed to overcome a dismal first half to keep their finals hopes alive.
Prop Dane Tilse was a late omission, called back to Canberra from Penrith at 4am yesterday after his wife Katie went into labour for the birth of their first child.
It was a false alarm and Tilse was willing to return to the foot of the mountains before the game, but was told to remain in Canberra.
In his absence and against a Panthers side struggling for form, the Raiders looked like the team playing with no incentive.
But their lifeless start only cost them six points when Josh Mansour capitalised on a Michael Gordon pass to score in the fourth minute.
Even with a mountain of possession, a 6-0 lead was all the Panthers could muster in the first half, despite Canberra not being tackled inside Penrith's 20-metre zone until 15 minutes before the break.
''That first half wasn't the best, I thought we didn't build pressure where we had opportunities to,'' Canberra coach David Furner said.
''I thought our defence, bar their first try, was pretty gutsy there. Whilst it's ugly, I'm happy with the two points.''
Penrith's quest to avoid the spoon could be made even more difficult after centre Michael Jennings was twice put on report. In the 28th minute he attacked the legs of the airborne McCrone, who was flipped above the horizontal after putting up a bomb. While that may not be enough to have Jennings miss a game, a swinging arm that collected the head of Joe Picker 16 minutes later is likely to have him suspended. And Josh Papalii, who has 75 carry-over points to his name, could join Jennings on the sidelines after he was put on report for an elbow on Lachlan Coote off the ball, but Furner doesn't believe there is a lot to worry about.
''I thought the opposition player ran into him, to be honest,'' Furner said. ''He was coming in for a tackle.''
CANBERRA RAIDERS 20 (J Croker J McCrone J Picker tries J Croker 4 goals) bt PENRITH PANTHERS 10 (M Gordon J Mansour tries L Walsh goal) at Centrebet Stadium today. Referees: Jason Robinson, Brett Suttor. Crowd: 7437.