Panthers suffocate Raiders with near-perfect second half to extend unbeaten start

Penrith have continued their unbeaten start to the NRL season, outlasting Canberra Raiders to run home easy 36-6 winners late on.

Canberra were excellent defensively but strangled in attack by a Panthers side that gave next to nothing away and were more than willing to suffocate their way to the win.

The sheer weight of tackling was always likely to tell. The Panthers scored 22 unanswered points in the second half, making the most of a tired defence that had made over 100 more tackles.

The final score was a little unfair on the Raiders, but this was a Penrith side that showed how willing they were to dig deep as well as to play expansively. Only when they had done the hard yards did they start to throw the footy.

The average set distances told a story: Penrith were making just shy of 40m every time they got the footy; the Raiders just over 25.

The back five were exceptional: Dylan Edwards and Taylan May topped the running metres and allowed their forwards to have the energy to muscle up in defence.

Midway through the second half, the Raiders were completing at near 90% and sharing possession but had failed to cross the halfway line once since the break.

Such was the Panthers dominance that at one point, the Raiders completed a whole set without leaving their own 20m area, culminating in Jack Wighton kicked from almost back on the tryline.

The first ten minutes looked ominous. Penrith dominated the field position and possession, with five consecutive sets on the Raiders’ line, but Canberra were good enough to turn them away.

It proved unsustainable. The defence stood firm yet again, but with the Panthers in Hail Mary mode on tackle five, Xavier Savage batted the ball down unnecessarily to invite yet more pressure. Moments later, he found himself grasping at thin air as Stephen Crichton sped around him for the first try.

The Raiders struck straight back. Dylan Edwards and Matt Eisenhuth were caught looking at each other as the kick off landed between them, forcing a drop out.

From the resulting set, Tom Starling created a gap for Joe Tapine to get Canberra back in the game, albeit very much against the run of play.

Despite the rumours of the death of grinding rugby league, there was plenty of it about in the first half in Penrith.

Mostly, the flow was Panthers pushing and Raiders repelling, but that was not the whole of it and Canberra threw a few back.

The Panthers needed something unexpected to break the deadlock, and they got it from Soni Luke.

The 26-year-old replaced Api Koroisau to make his NRL debut and within moments, did his best impression of the Blues hooker, stepping out from dummy half and slipping Isaah Yeo through a huge gap.

Canberra had struggled with discipline in the first half, losing the penalty count 7-1, and it would eventually tell as Nathan Cleary slotted a penalty to end the first half.

The Panthers came out for the second half fired up. They were largely unable to create genuine opportunities, such was the superb defence from the Raiders, but the arm wrestle was going one way only.

Unfortunately for Xavier Savage, it was again his mistake that created the opportunity for the Panthers.

His play the ball was poor and the attempt to challenge came too late – it might have been successful – and after a bunker review, it was confirmed that Stephen Crichton has squirmed over.

The Raiders were well offside from the kick off and invited the Panthers back in. Again, they hit right: Cleary kicked on the second into space, Crichton dove for the hat trick and was pushed by Matt Timoko.

It was adjudged a penalty try – and Canberra couldn’t argue too much – and the floodgates were open. The next through was Taylan May, somewhat fortuitously, before Jarome Luai has one took off for an obstruction.

Canberra did finally manage a play the ball in the Panthers’ half with two minutes to play – they should have celebrated it like a try.

There was time for a post-match scuffle between Jack Wighton and Dylan Edwards, but cool heads eventually settled. The contest had been settled long before.

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