Jack Wighton was more impressive in the centres after failing to fire at five-eighth over the opening nine rounds. Photo: Melissa Adams
PENRITH PANTHERS 26 (David Simmons 2, Josh Mansour, Matt Moylan, James Segeyaro tries; Jamie Soward 3 goals) bt CANBERRA RAIDERS 20 (Reece Robinson 2, Jarrod Croker, Anthony Milford tries; Croker 2 goals) at Canberra Stadium on Sunday. Referees: Gavin Badger and Grant Atkins. Crowd: 8892.
WIGHTON CENTRE OF ATTENTION
It took nine rounds for Raiders coach Ricky Stuart to bite the bullet, but the decision to move Jack Wighton from the halves back to centre paid immediate dividends. From just the second tackle of the game, Wighton made a break and positioned his winger Reece Robinson to score. Later in the first half he turned provider for Robinson again as the Raiders recovered from a Penrith rally. With Josh McCrone back at halfback, the right side of Wighton, Josh Papalii and Robinson looked threatening all game. McCrone and Papalii enjoyed a great partnership before McCrone’s move to hooker this year, and the back rower benefited greatly from having him inside him again. All of Stuart’s ‘'back to the future’' changes worked. Terry Campese looked much more comfortable at five-eighth than halfback, and McCrone gave them valuable direction.
HAS PAPALII DONE ENOUGH?
Papalii has been well below the form which springboarded him into the representative arena last year. The talk was he needed a big game to avoid getting dumped by Queensland, and he responded with a strong display. The 21-year-old was heavily involved in attack, the Raiders looking to isolate him one-on-one with Penrith five-eighth Jamie Soward at every opportunity. With Maroons coach Mal Meninga watching from the stands, Papalii racked up 116 metres and 22 tackles in a strong performance in his last audition before the Maroons team for Origin I is named on Monday night.
PANGAI OWN WORST ENEMY
Poor personal discipline cost Moses Pangai the chance to finally return to the NRL after he played his sole game for North Queensland in round one, 2012. The winger was half an hour late for a mid-week training session, and Stuart sent a message it wouldn’t be tolerated by dropping him from the line-up. His replacement Sami Sauiluma had a mixed bag. He was regularly caught out of position in defence, but had several strong runs out of the Raiders danger zone. Canberra continue to persist with its up-and-in defence, despite the fact it has been ruthlessly exposed all year by cross field kicks from opposition halves. Panthers halfback Peter Wallace capitalised with the space given down each flank, laying on a pinpoint kick for an unmarked Josh Mansour to score in the first half.
SEASON ON THE LINE NEXT WEEK
Now 3-7, Canberra simply must beat a North Queensland side severely depleted by Origin at home next Sunday. The Cowboys are coming off a superb 42-10 hammering of defending premiers the Roosters on Saturday night. However, the boys from Townsville will be without Johnathan Thurston, James Tamou, Matt Scott and Brent Tate, all expected to be unavailable due to Queensland and NSW selection. North Queensland will also be minus Gavin Cooper and Cameron King, who both suffered long-term injuries against the Roosters. If the Raiders can’t get the job done, their finals hopes are over.
LANGUAGE SOURS WOMEN IN LEAGUE ROUND
The players’ frustrations were understandable after several curious refereeing decisions left them bewildered. But the last thing the NRL would have wanted in Women in League round is for a tirade of swear words to be broadcast live on national television on Fox Sports. There were several fiery exchanges between players and referees during a controversial first half, the colourful language picked up by the referees' microphones.