Penrith 18 St George Illawarra 14
Panthers forward Sam McKendry takes on the Dragons. Photo: Getty Images
Not so long ago the toughest challenge about travelling to Penrith was handling the cold weather. Not so in 2014.
The Panthers notched up their fifth win a row - and sixth win at Sportingbet Stadium in 2014 – with a hard fought 18-14 win against St George Illawarra.
The Panthers have now equalled the total number of wins they had at home all of last year and are on track to break their 2010 figure of nine wins – which was also the last time the Panthers made the playoffs.
Dragons forward Tyson Frizell is assisted from the field. Photo: Getty Images
|View Match Statistics|
|Players||Whare(2), Mansour||Tries||3||Tries||3||Players||Runciman, Nightingale(2)|
|Players||Soward 3/3 (100%)||Conversions||3||Conversions||1||Players||Widdop 1/3 (33%)|
|Players||Penalty goals||0||Penalty goals||0||Players|
|Players||Field goals||0||Field goals||0||Players|
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said was a good experience for his young team to grind out a win under pressure.
“The stats were against us in terms of completions and possession. We were put under pressure tonight; they played pretty really well,’’ Cleary said. “We feel like we are making progress and tonight was another bit of progress. It wasn’t all perfect and we had some pressure on us and somehow managed to hold us off.
“Our byes are close together so we have 11 games consecutively after our bye next week; it’s a big tough run."
As the temperature plummeted into single figures at the foot of the mountains, the score was quick to hit double digits as the league leaders heated up in the first half tries with two tries to Dean Whare.
The New Zealand international opened the scoring in the fourth minute when he finished a sweeping move to catch out the new look Dragons three quarter pairing of Charly Runciman and Gerard Beale.
He was at it again not long after when he was the beneficiary of a Kevin Naiqama knockback from a Peter Wallace bomb.
Despite missing big guns Trent Merrin, Josh Dugan and Brett Morris the Dragons rallied to close the gap to two early in the second half.
Adam Quinlan, the man who took over Josh Dugan’s No.1 jumper, demonstrated why coach Paul McGregor was so keen to have him in the top grade setting up tries for Runciman and Jason Nightingale either side of the break.
But almost a year to the date since Jamie Soward left St George Illawarra he came back to haunt his former team setting up the in-form Josh Mansour for what turned out to be the winning try off the back of a Bryce Cartwright offload.
His goalkicking also proved to the difference nailing his three tough conversions. Soward was solid if not spectacular in his first game against his former club narrowly missing a 40/20 in the first half and cleaning up numerous half chances in defence.
In his third game back from rugby union Benji Marshall struggled to repeat his match-winning performance against Cronulla with another error-riddled performance.
It was around the same time last year Marshall in a Wests Tigers jumper broke the Panthers three game winning streak when he orchestrated a second-half comeback.
This time there no heroics despite a late Nightingale try as the Panthers sent the majority of the 13,768 fans home smiling with their fourth win in a row against the joint venture.
Despite the loss interim Dragons coach Paul McGregor was glowing in the praise of his team labelling the performance as the best of the season.
“That’s the best game we have played this year and we have had a couple of wins on the year,” he said. “Sometime you lose; but you win. The group is growing and with half our salary cap at home sitting on the lounge on rep duties and injured, the effort with 94 per cent completion and we scored three tries all... was very good. Some of the football we displayed was some very good attacking footy.
“All I expect is improvement week to week and you only have to look back a couple of weeks to see where were were at to where we are now. We just have to make sure we back that up next week.”
The Dragons' injury woes continued with Tyson Frizell added to the casualty ward limping from the field with an ankle injury in the 13th minute.
Next week the Panthers have the bye while St George Illawarra will travel to the Gold Coast.