Penrith coach Ivan Cleary has no regrets about granting Luke Walsh a release from the last year of his contract despite the halfback playing a leading role in the Panthers’ charge towards the NRL finals.
Walsh was the difference as Penrith held on to beat Parramatta 17-10 on Saturday night – a win which propelled the Panthers up to seventh spot on the ladder.
The crafty playmaker’s 40-20 proved the catalyst for David Simmons’ opening try of the night, while a pin-point chip kick set up the winger’s second just after halftime.
And, just as the Eels threatened to steal the game in the dying stages – after Walsh had thrown an intercept for opposite Luke Kelly just before the break – he potted over a field goal to sink the home team’s charge two minutes from time.
But for all his heroics, Walsh will be lost to the NRL in 2014, the Panthers granting him a release to join Super League side St Helens next season, with St George Illawarra discard Jamie Soward set to take over in the No.7 at the foot of the mountains.
Cleary said he had no qualms with the call.
“You’ve got to make decisions and I think both parties have come to an agreement and it’s best just to move forward,” Cleary said.
“He was really disappointed at halftime after what happened right on the stroke of halftime (intercept) and, to his credit, he came out and worked really hard for his team.
“He’s shown that week in, week out, certainly since the announcement (that he was leaving).
Eels coach Ricky Stuart, himself a former champion halfback, had no doubt as to Walsh’s impact on the game.
“You look at Luke Walsh tonight – if we didn’t play against such a good kicking game, we probably win the game there tonight,” Stuart said.
“His kicking game was tactically smart. We knew he was going to be good.”
Simmons’ early effort was backed up by skipper Kevin Kingston – who has also been told to look elsewhere in 2014 – with the hooker beating five players on his way to the tryline for a 12-0 lead.
The Eels hit back twice before the break before Walsh again terrorised them with his boot, Stuart praising his side’s ability to stay in the contest after conceding 50 points in Monday night’s loss to Manly.
“I prefer that loss tonight than fluking a win because we had a dig tonight,” Stuart said.