Panthers keep Bunnies at bay for second straight NRL win

The NRL bubble moved to Netstrata Jubilee Oval for the clash between the Panthers and Rabbitohs, after the Campbelltown Stadium surface was determined to be a little worse for wear. On a deck so perfect it looked like artificial grass, the Panthers secured a 20-12 victory in front of a handful of enthusiastic fans.

Five minutes into the game Panthers winger Brent Naden made a break down the left wing and remarkably managed to stay in the field of play despite being tackled close to a slippery sideline. From the ensuing final play, a Nathan Cleary bomb went up towards Viliame Kikau who tapped it back to five-eighth Jarome Luai, who then fired a pass out to Naden; the winger rewarded for his earlier efforts with a four-pointer. Cleary shanked the conversion attempt, to leave the Panthers 4-0 up. Naden was in again minutes later, but the final pass from Stephen Crichton was ruled forward. The Panthers were having the better of play, with Apisai Koroisau's sharp work out of dummy-half often catching the Bunnies on their heels.

After 21 minutes another high kick from Cleary came to earth just metres out from the Rabbitohs' line, was batted back and passed out to Naden again, but this time he was surrounded and wrapped up. His desperate pass inside was knocked down by the Bunnies and during the resulting set of six Naden dived for the corner, but had the ball knocked from his grasp by the desperate defence. Naden, who was a late replacement for Josh Mansour, was certainly earning his money.

With 13 minutes remaining in the half, Luai put through a grubber from 10 metres out and Crichton won the race to the ball to score Penrith's second try. Cleary missed from an even easier angle to leave Souths only 8-0 down, despite being outplayed for the most part.

Six minutes later, a long Adam Reynolds kick was fumbled by Brian To'o 20 metres out from his own line. With possession from the scrum, the Rabbitohs enjoyed one of their few attacking opportunities, but were tackled on the last for a handover after failing to trouble the Panthers' defence. With their next possession the Rabbitohs finally made a break of note, with Cody Walker slipping the ball to Alex Johnson who took off down the sideline. His pass back inside was ruled forward, denying Souths what would have been their first try.

The halftime siren sounded with the Panthers extinguishing one last Rabbitohs attacking raid. Both teams wandered off after an uninspiring first half, Penrith leading 8-0, but neither coach would have been impressed by the performances.

Four minutes into the second half, following three back-to-back sets of tackles and with the Panthers' defence stretched, the Rabbitohs spread the ball to Mitchell who dropped the ball cold. Penrith were scrambling well and tackling in numbers, but the Rabbitohs weren't offering much with the ball, when they could hold onto it.

Five minutes later on the back of another six again call, and a penalty, Souths were on the attack again. This time Reynolds took on the line and slipped a pass inside to Bayley Sironen who charged through the tired defence from ten metres out to score next to the posts. Reynolds converted to take the Rabbitohs within two points of the Panthers.

Fifteen minutes into the second half and the returning James Roberts spilt a golden chance at an interception. The Panthers, with a new set of six, went deep into Souths territory where they received a penalty. Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook was down with a leg injury as the ball was spread to the left hand side where Kikau was penalised for a decoy run gone wrong. Not long after, Mitchell knocked on again.

Four minutes later, some decoy runners, passes around the back and sweet stepping from fullback Dylan Edwards saw the Panthers score again. Cleary muffed his third conversion attempt to leave the score 12-6 in Penrith's favour.

The Panthers were then able to roll deep inside Rabbitohs territory, after a Reynolds penalty kick for touch landed a metre in and bounced infield for the Panthers to take possession. A clever Cleary grubber saw a set of seven tackles, the end of which saw another clever Cleary kick for another set of seven tackles. The game was on the line as Souths battled to hold on under the mounting pressure.

This time Luai put a crafty grubber through and Roberts took Crichton out of the chase, earning himself ten minutes in the sin bin. He trudged off as Cleary lined up another shot at goal, this time just clearing the crossbar to take the Panthers out to 14-6.

With four minutes remaining in the match, Mitchell made a try-saving cover tackle on Naden, but held onto his leg a little too long and soon joined Roberts in the sin bin. With a two-man disadvantage the Rabbitohs defence snapped, with Cleary dummying his way over for a try to seal the match. He converted his try to take the Panthers to a 20-6 lead.

With a minute to go, the Rabbitohs capitilised on a short kick off and Alex Johnson dived over in the corner. Reynolds converted from the sideline for the final score line of 20-12.

The Panthers were temporarily on top of the NRL ladder after a solid, if not impressive, victory over a Rabbitohs side that dropped way too much ball to be competitive.