Almanac Rugby League – Round 2: Heartbreak in the night time heat

National Rugby League 2016

Round 2

Penrith Panthers v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

Pepper Stadium, Penrith

10 March 2016

This is the 50th season the Panthers have been in the Premier rugby league competition. From the old Sydney 1st Division, to the NSWRL, ARL, Super League and now the NRL.

Tonight we have members from that first team of 1967, when the ground they now stood on was nothing more than an open paddock. The team tonight is wearing a replica of the ’67 brown and white jersey.

When the game kicks off at 8.05 the temperature in Penrith is still 28 degrees. After last week’s game in the daylight heat of Canberra and a short turn around, this will be a game where mistakes and energy will cost you.

Penrith start strong, hitting the Bulldogs hard in the forward contests and clearly winning in the ruck. The early dominance is rewarded with a try to Peta Hiku chasing through a well timed grubber kick from Jamie Soward. Panthers lead 6-0 after just four minutes.

Penrith are playing half back Peter Wallace at hooker in attack, while Tyrone Peachey (named at hooker to replace the injured James Segeyaro) is playing five eighth with Soward at half.

Wallace is providing quality passes from rucks where the Panthers forwards are making big metres against the Dogs’ defence.

Prop forward Sam McKendry takes a run at the line and it seems the Bulldogs have held him up, but he somehow has gotten to ground, and the ball is on the try-line. Panthers lead 12-0 in as many minutes.

The Bulldogs’ restart is kicked out on the full, Panthers penalty from the centre spot. At the end of the set another penalty to Penrith and Soward kicks for goal and the Panthers have a 14 point lead.

Next kick-off Canterbury’s English captain James Graham attacks the ball carrier with a blatant shoulder charge. When executed well, the shoulder charge is a spectacular collision between two big men, but when it goes wrong, the damage caused is horrendous. The shoulder charge was outlawed in Rugby Union 30 years ago, but it’s only been two years since it was banned in Rugby League. This action by Graham was a demonstration of the frustration of being dominated in the forwards, something that rarely happens to the Dogs.

Some fortuitous penalties to Canterbury has gifted them some possession of the football. Moses Mbye breaks the Panthers line from just inside halfway and in support new recruit Will Hopoate scores for the Dogs to the left of the uprights and Mbye converts to bring the scores to 14-6.

Since the beginnings of time, a kick that goes dead in the in-goal area results in the defending team getting a restart on their 20 metre line. However, now the tackle count starts with a free “zero” tackle, effectively a seven tackle set.

To negate the risk of having to defend an extra tackle set, when in possession inside the final 15 metres on the last tackle, Canterbury are running the ball. Penrith’s defence is strong, but instead of starting 20 metres upfield, the handover of possession is happening right near the goal line, and there is no “zero tackle.” It’s an effective tactic to gain field advantage.

Penrith work it upfield again and another penalty kick to Soward and the lead is back to eight points. Penrith have a couple of opportunities to score again before halftime, but can’t get it done.

Another penalty kick in the 49th minute gives Penrith a 10 point lead.

The Bulldogs are now descending into “professional play”. After a penalty is awarded to Penrith one of the Dogs’ players goes down with an injury. The referee stops play for five minutes while the player is attended to, yet he resumes his place in the defensive line. Valuable recovery time for them. Later in the game, with the roles reversed and a Penrith player down injured but this time it is “play on” and Penrith have two defensive sets with only 12 men in the line.

Penrith put up a bomb, it’s spilt by the Canterbury fullback and Josh Mansour lands on the loose ball. It is referred to the NRL Bunker for video review, and they rule that Mansour was somehow offside.

Five minutes later and the momentum shifts with Moses Mbye following up a Josh Reynolds break and the score is now 16-12.

Penrith have possession deep in Canterbury territory with one minute to go, but the final tackle kick from Soward goes dead in-goal. The Dogs have a seven tackle set to score. And on that seventh tackle they run it left and get it over the line. It’s referred to the Bunker and they rule momentum carried the ball over the line, not a double movement. Scores are tied as the full time siren sounds. Debutant for Canterbury Kerrod Holland has a kick to win the game and he nails it.

Having lead for the whole game, Penrith walk away without anything to show for it.

As I walk home along the Victoria Bridge over the Nepean River, devastated, I realise I’m sweating and it’s still 27 degrees at 10.15. These blokes must be drained from such a high energy spectacle they’ve put on in the 80 minutes of playing time.

It’s a tough start to the season, the “Dogs of War” hold out once again, while the Panthers need to find a killer instinct.

Penrith Panthers 16 (Tries: Peta Hiku, Sam McKendry. Goals: Jamie Soward 4 from 4)

Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs 18 (Tries: Will Hopoate, Moses Mbye 2. Goals: Moses Mbye 1 from 1, Kerrod Holland 2 from 2)

Crowd 11,265

About Wayne Ball

Tragic fan of the Australian and NSW cricket teams (for those of you outside NSW, there is a difference, despite what David Hookes said). Not a fan of T20. Penrith Panthers are the only club of decency and all which is good in Rugby League, the Waratah's were once the national team of Rugby Union, the first non Victorian team in the VFL/AFL is the Sydney Swans, and they all enjoy my passionate support. Sings for Wanderers. Internationally, I have been to see the Oakland Athletics and Green Bay Packers play. One day, I'll see Norwich City play for the FA Cup at Wembley.

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