Tipped by many as one of the favourites for the dreaded wooden spoon in season 2013, the Penrith Panthers have been impressive in the pre-season. A 32-18 victory over the New Zealand Warriors on Saturday has the mountain men beaming.
It was a second victory in as many appearances for Ivan Cleary’s men who were far too good for a Warriors outfit still trying to gel.
Despite a number of players on debut for the club, the Panthers clicked and return to Australia with a 2-0 record after defeating the Wests Tigers a week earlier in Bathurst.
The Warriors would open the scoring with an impressive passage of play from the enigmatic Shaun Johnson. After being rushed on the last tackle, Johnson would chip for himself before regathering and kicking again for a flying Manu Vatuvei.
Former Warrior Lewis Brown made an instant impact for his new club when he evaded a number of defenders before feeding Josh Mansour who crossed out wide.
With Walsh’s conversion, Penrith had the lead.
But Brown wasn’t finished yet.
After a solid passage of play from the Panthers, Wes Naiqama crashed through the Warriors defensive line and found Brown who had his first try in the famous black strip.
In a worrying moment for Penrith fans, Walsh was taken from the field with a leg injury.
Even the departure of their key playmaker couldn’t stop a Panthers side seemingly on a mission to outmuscle their highly fancied opponents.
Penrith would cross for their third and Brown’s second in the 27th minute.
Naiqama timed his run to perfection and hammered Warriors winger Bill Tupou who spilled the ball allowing Brown to scoop up possession and outpace the covering defence to score in the corner.
A try to David Simmons on 35 minutes extended the visitors lead to a commanding 22-4.
Brown would cap off a remarkable debut half for his new side with yet another break. The talented utility might just well be the buy of the year.
The game was gone at the break. Both coaches fiddled with combinations throughout the second stanza but nobody was taking this one away from the Panthers.
After a tumultuous twelve months at Centrebet Stadium which has seen massive upheavals, coach Clearly might finally be getting his team together.
“Defence, we were strong early on defensively and forced them into a few errors” captain Kevin Kingston told the Panthers’ website.
“The new guys have added a great harmony to the group, and the positive team aspect there is the defence, if you trust and respect each other the defence will be good.”
Penrith might have lost a few champion players in the off season, but already it seems this side will fight and claw for everything they earn in 2013.
Published on theroar.com.au