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Penrith Panthers coach Ivan Cleary rues missed opportunity in loss to Cronulla Sharks

Panthers 16 Sharks 18

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As it happened: Panthers v Sharks

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary says Saturday's shock loss to Cronulla was an opportunity missed but insists he is still trying to work out his best team just six weeks out from the finals.

He might have another big decision ahead after halfback Peter Wallace picked up another knee injury that threatens to sideline him for an extended period leading into the finals.

Fend-off: Cronulla's Andrew Fifita palms away Panthers forward Lewis Brown.

Fend-off: Cronulla's Andrew Fifita palms away Panthers forward Lewis Brown. Photo: Getty Images

Time
80.00
Team
PEN
Score
16
Team
CRO
Score
18
Penrith versus Cronulla
View Match Statistics
Players Watene Zelezniak, Naiqama, Whare Tries 3 Tries 4 Players Gagan(2), Gordon, Tagataese
Players Soward 2/3 (66%) Conversions 2 Conversions 1 Players Gordon 1/4 (25%)
Players Penalty goals 0 Penalty goals 0 Players
Players Field goals 0 Field goals 0 Players

The 18-16 loss to the Sharks is Penrith's second on the trot, and Cleary says there are plenty of questions being asked of his side after a strong start to the year.

"We're still a new team," Cleary said. "We've got enough to work out, we're still trying to work out combinations and which is our best team. It's just another section of the season. It's been a disappointing couple of weeks for us but that's all part of it. We have got to bounce back and move on.

"The next six weeks is the time of year when you want to be climbing into your best footy instead of going the other way."

Main man: Andrew Fifita put in a match-winning performance against the Panthers in Bathurst.

Main man: Andrew Fifita put in a match-winning performance against the Panthers in Bathurst. Photo: Getty Images

The Panthers' decision to take their home game to Carrington Park in Bathurst did not pay dividends. Penrith squandered a golden opportunity to cement a top-four finish and all but ended any hope of their first minor premiership since 2003.

The Panthers came into the round in equal second with the Bulldogs, just two points off competition frontrunners Manly, but the second big upset of the round may just prove costly for Cleary's men.

Given the Sydney Roosters were stunned by the Knights in Newcastle on Friday night, a win for Penrith on Saturday would have given them a four-point buffer on the fifth-placed Roosters.

"We just want to try and finish as high as we can, but when you start looking too far ahead, you start losing your way," Cleary said.

"The reality is and what we've seen over the last couple of weeks in the competition, it's such a tight comp. It's been like that the whole year. We've seen enough upsets for everyone to understand if you start looking too far ahead and work out who is going to finish where and what not, you might just take your eye off the ball. At this point, we've just lost two in a row, so the next focus is making sure we play well next week."

Wallace had missed the Panthers' past two games after suffering separate knee and ankle injuries in round 17 and was again taken from the field in the first half after picking up a knock, but returned later in the half after receiving an injection.

The Sharks led by two points with 20 minutes remaining, showing incredible resilience in defence to withstand a late Panthers onslaught to hold on to a rare two competition points. 

It was Andrew Fifita, who has been dogged by injury and suspension for the most of this season, who inspired Cronulla to just their fifth win of the term in front of a crowd of 8824.

Fifita finished the game with 20 runs, 211 metres, 29 tackles, eight offloads, two tackle breaks, one line break and one try assist in one of the finest displays by a front-rower this season.

"It's hard for the defence, I don't think he knows what he's doing half the time," stand-in skipper Wade Graham said. "He's just a big thing running around, playing footy. When he's like that he's certainly a handful and can produce some special stuff for the team."

Graham also congratulated the Panthers on bringing their game out to Bathurst, despite playing on a heavy track. "I reckon it was a great initiative from Panthers, they have to be congratulated as well as the community out at Bathurst," Graham said.

"It was unreal to see the hill, you couldn't see a patch of grass on the hill. It was a great atmosphere ... it felt like we [wound] back the clock to when we were playing at 16 or 17."

3 comments so far

  • Its all downhill from here for the pennies. Melting when the heats on. Seen it all before.

    Commenter
    1970 Panther
    Location
    Penrith
    Date and time
    July 26, 2014, 7:37PM
    • It was nice to see Fafita back in good form. It must be the North Korean haircut.

      Commenter
      Reader
      Location
      Home
      Date and time
      July 26, 2014, 9:20PM
      • Although Penrith didn't get the result they should be commended for taking the game to the people. Each team should be required to take a minimum of 2 home games to regional (national/international) centres. The games in Mackay and Cairns were great to watch last year as was last nights game in Bathurst. Even if the same area gets two or three teams play there each year, it would be such a boost for the NRL and the area its self. Places to consider: Cairns, Mackay, Rockhampton, Mt Isa, Bundaberg, Sunshine coast, Toowoomba, Darwin, Alice Springs, Perth, Adelaide, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton, Rotarua, Bathurst, Central Coast, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Ballina, Albury, Wagga Wagga, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, PNG.

        Commenter
        Trenno
        Date and time
        July 27, 2014, 11:57AM

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