Penrith lost their Friday night battle, but the Panthers might just win the war

Stuart Thomas Columnist

By Stuart Thomas, Stuart Thomas is a Roar Expert

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    If Anthony Griffin doesn’t congratulate his young Penrith players after the loss to the Sharks at Panthers Stadium he is a fool.

    Sure, as in any game, there were errors and poor decisions. However, most were merely reflective of a lack of first grade experience rather than any deficiencies in skill or aptitude.

    Once Caleb Aekins, Tyrone May, Jarome Luai and Viliame Kikau have 50 or 60 games under their belts, the competition had better beware.

    Currently, they have just 39 games between them and Kikau has played the bulk of them with 24 NRL appearances.

    Their raw ability and the hope they present for the future must surely have overridden the disappointment of sacrificing the two points and perhaps even a spot in the top four.

    The Sharks were professional, even polished at times and did enough to dispose of the Panthers despite a few scares midway through the second-half.

    Yet the lasting memory of the match will centre more on the next generation of talent that the Panthers will be desperate to nurture and keep.

    Without State of Origin stars Nathan Cleary, James Maloney and Tyrone Peachey, Penrith were missing experience, combinations and class.

    Panthers coach Anthony Griffin at the post game media conference.

    Panthers coach Anthony Griffin at a post game media conference. (AAP Image/Michael Chambers)

    What the youngsters lack in that department at this stage of their careers, was more than made up for with sheer speed and brash confidence.

    Caleb Aekins looked a promising player at fullback. He fielded kicks confidently and running aggressively on his returns. Still short of his 21st birthday, Aekins ran for nearly 300 metres and topped the count for his side.

    May and Luai continued where they left off a week earlier in the dominant win against the Warriors. Luai is a better half-back than a few clubs have on their books right now. He is ready made and a big money offer will not be far away.

    May will need a little more time to develop yet does show immense promise as a foil. The biggest issue for the Panthers will be making astute recruitment and retention decisions in order to ensure they aren’t wearing opposition colours in the future.

    The fourth member of the quartet, Viliame Kikau, will not be going anywhere. If he ever does, the Penrith faithful should storm the compound that is their Leagues Club and demand to know how one of the most stunning prospects of the modern era could be let go.

    The Fijian pummels the line with immense power, hits holes threateningly and when in open field, runs at a speed that belies his 120-kilogram frame.

    When he brushed aside five defenders as the Panthers threw caution to the wind in desperate search of a late try, it was hair raising.

    Every now and then a young forward comes along and does things of which no other player can even dream, let alone produce. I saw that talent in a young Bradley Clyde, Wayne Pearce and Sonny Bill Williams.

    Kikau looks like something very special.

    The Panthers might accept a loss in this battle, knowing full well that somewhere in the future they might be able to unleash their fully developed weapons on the Sharks and win something much bigger than a Friday night match at Panthers Stadium.

    Parramatta travelled to Newcastle to face the Knights in the latter game and the promise of expansive and unpredictable adventure was on the cards.

    It didn’t disappoint, with an end to end affair where defence was left at the front desk at times yet both teams were willing and committed.

    A 10-all score was a perfect reflection of the first half, where both teams had periods of ascendency. Early Parramatta tries to Siosaia Vave and Mitchell Moses were matched by four pointers to Connor Watson and Shaun Kenny-Dowall.

    Mitchell Moses of the Eels

    Mitch Moses (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    Mitchell Pearce scored under the posts early in the second half and Corey Norman levelled things with a try of his own.

    A Ken Sio penalty goal in the 59th minute proved to be the difference as the Knights held on for the 18-16 win. Not that the last twenty minutes wasn’t chaotic, panicked and frantic.

    Bevan French’s last ditch effort in the corner is worth catching on replay if you missed it.

    It was just the match you would expect between 12th and 16th on the ladder; lacking at times yet desperate and gripping just the same.

    Stuart Thomas
    Stuart Thomas

    Stuart Thomas is a sports writer and educator who made the jump from Roar Guru to Expert in 2017. An ex-trainee professional golfer, his sporting passions are broad with particular interests in football, AFL and rugby league. His love of sport is only matched by his passion for gardening and self-sustainability. Follow him on Twitter @stuartthomas72.

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    The Crowd Says (21)

    • July 14th 2018 @ 6:14am
      Busty McCracken said | July 14th 2018 @ 6:14am | ! Report

      Listening to Phil Goulds podcast the other week after a post origin shellacking they copped it sounds like they’re expectations on this period are all about surviving and growing more than winning. They seem to be timing their race fairly well and expect a big uplift in 3 weeks time or so as they make their run.

      Am interested to see how the dragons come out of origin and If they can maintain the rage. I have doubts

    • Roar Guru

      July 14th 2018 @ 6:58am
      The Barry said | July 14th 2018 @ 6:58am | ! Report

      I don’t disagree with anything you’ve written about Penrith or their players but isn’t it a bit same old, same old with the Panthers?

      “The NRL better look out when this next crop of youngsters gets some experience under their belts”

      It was Jennings, Graham, Coote, Wallace Then it’s was Moylan, Martin and Cartwright. They keep developing all of these players to a point and then let them go so they can keep the next generation. Rinse and repeat.

      Sooner or later the sleeping giant needs to wake up. Sooner or later it needs to be about this season, not next season or five years time.

      Agree about Kikau…he’s an amazing physical specimen but he’s still relatively inexperienced and still takes a few wrong options at times. He could be anything. Love watching him play. Love watching the Panthers in general, they’ve got a great mix between tough and attacking footy. James Fisher-Harris is one of my favourite players at the moment. A great mix of silky skills and unchained brutality. He’s also a shy, humble lad.

      I thought that game last night was an absolute howler. Newcastle were bad, the Eels were atrocious. They looked like the Harlem Globetrotters in the first 10 minutes. They are a lazy, loose side. They were appalling for the rest of the first half.

      A lot of people have been raving about Brad Arthur from the minute he came into first grade…I had no idea why and I still don’t. Parra look like a poorly coached ill disciplined rabble. Arthur has had the reins for a few years now, has had the chance to assemble his roster, develop his culture and foster his style. I think he’s running out of excuses and possibly time.

      Best part of last nights game was watching young Nick Meaney go around, who’s off to the Bulldogs next year. Looks like a natural player, very calm and skilful, good footwork. Too soon to start hoping for the best…? 😜

      • July 14th 2018 @ 7:46am
        Jacob said | July 14th 2018 @ 7:46am | ! Report

        I feel much the same. Case in point, Corey Harawira Naera pushing Bryce Cartwright out of a starting spot last year. There was also all the BS about Moylans exit freeing up money to secure Dylan Edwards and Tyrone May long term. IMO theyre stronger holding onto Moylan and Peachey

      • July 14th 2018 @ 12:42pm
        Paul said | July 14th 2018 @ 12:42pm | ! Report


        You’re not trying to stir Mary into writing another Brad Arthur “trust the process” article are you? I’m happy for him to keep coaching the Eels but I’m sure fans who care about Parra a lot more than I must be having serious doubts.

    • July 14th 2018 @ 7:43am
      Greg said | July 14th 2018 @ 7:43am | ! Report

      Great effort from Holmes who scored two tries in Origin then another two last night to make it four tries in 48 hours. Kikau has the potential to become the best forward in the game, he’s a beast.

    • July 14th 2018 @ 8:14am
      Zedman said | July 14th 2018 @ 8:14am | ! Report

      Good return from injury for Pearce, it may have been against Parramatta but he was in everything. Once again the Mose’s myth is exposed.

    • July 14th 2018 @ 8:27am
      Paul said | July 14th 2018 @ 8:27am | ! Report

      Some of the things Luai did last night made me think he might be a better number 7 prospect than Cleary. He never stopped for the full game and his legs tackling was outstanding. He has a heap of energy and with some polish, could be a great leader for the Panthers, assuming they don’t let him go.

      Your comparison with Kikau and players of the past was spot on Stuart. Who knows what he’ll do in the game, assuming he remains uninjured and the big money offers he’ll be made, don’t go to his head.

      Fair enough the Parra/Knights game was not one for the purists, but it was great to see Mitchell Pearce back in action. People seem to think Cleary has a lock on the NSW SOO half back spot but Pearce is still a very good player and will keep Cleary honest.

    • July 14th 2018 @ 8:33am
      jamesb said | July 14th 2018 @ 8:33am | ! Report

      Luai has the potential to be the next superstar of the NRL. I know it’s early days, and there should be a degree of caution, but he does look a little classy in his ability.

      In the end, Cronulla’s experience got them over the line. The Sharks definitely have the forward pack to challenge once again. But who plays fullback, Holmes or Dugan?

      • July 14th 2018 @ 12:36pm
        Paul said | July 14th 2018 @ 12:36pm | ! Report

        With the form he’s currently in, Holmes would have to stay at fullback, wouldn’t he?

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