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Panthers all but secure Minor Premiership with hard-fought Roosters win

Penrith have held off a spirited Sydney Roosters to win 26-18 on a wet night at BlueBet Stadium, almost certainly securing the Minor Premiership in the process.

With Melbourne’s loss last night at Manly, Penrith would have to throw away a three win advantage not to finish top of the tree come September, and with a 15-1 record thus far, that seems very unlikely.

The Roosters, meanwhile, now sit in a lowly tenth position, barely believable given their performance here. They matched the reigning premiers blow for blow.

Few have rattled the Panthers as much as this, especially on their own turf. Only the Eels, who won at the foot of the mountains, have caused so many problems. The Roosters led midway through the second half and, on another night, might well have won.

They will point to a penalty in the dying moments of the first half, where Sam Verrills was adjudged to have tipped Scott Sorensen beyond the horizontal despite hitting him around the knees, as a turning point.

At that point, the score stood at 8-6 to Penrith and the Roosters had repelled multiple sets on their own line.

Had they made it to half time with just a two point deficit, it might have been a different game.

Instead, Viliame Kikau scored through exhausted defence and gave his side a vital boost, both on the scoreboard and to their confidence.

It was a high-quality affair, with both sides producing their best at moments to challenge each other and, indeed, bring the best out of each other.

Penrith had their usual highlights. The back three ran for the bulk of their metres, Nathan Cleary kicked long and accurate and James Fisher-Harris lead through the middle.

The manner in which the Roosters repeatedly turned the best attack in the comp away, and then shifted pressure in their own favour, was superb.

Joey Manu had an up and down game in his first appearance in the halves, with some excellent attacking offset by errors and defensive penalties, but showed enough to be persisted with.

Siasuia Taukieaho was immense in the middle, knocking out 180m with ball in hand and making 24 tackles, including a superb trysaver on Brian To’o.

At the other end of the size scale, Sam Walker, shifted to halfback to accommodate Manu, kicked for 555m and dictated play, and while it barely requires mentioning at this point, James Tedesco was excellent too.

Manu’s first appearance in the halves began inauspiciously, with an early knock on, though he wasn’t helped by his teammates.

After a series of errors and penalties, they were perhaps lucky that the Panthers opted for an early two points ahead of attempting something more serious.

Manu then knocked on again – this time, admittedly, trying to field a dangerous kick – and his side were not as fortunate. Penrith unveiled one of their trademark scrum base plays to send To’o in.

The poor start from the Chooks would get yet worse. They made an error in midfield and Api Koroisau pounced, making a quick break before finding Jaeman Salmon with an offload.

He couldn’t make it to the tryline, but after a delay for advantage, the bunker spotted some Crichton on Crichton pulling in backplay and sent Angus to the bin for a professional foul.

The Panthers had thrown everything, but were repelled repeatedly and indeed, despite the man disadvantage, it was the Roosters who scored next.

Naturally, it was Manu who created it. The newly-minted half spun and broke tackles in the middle of the field, produced a back flick to Tedesco and he found Walker rushing on his inside to score.

It would be against the run of play. The black wave returned with a force, but the Roosters goalline defence – shaky at times of late – stood firm.

Izack Tago opting against putting Taylan May in with a chance at the corner, before Tedesco and Taukieaho produced consecutive trysavers to keep the deficit at two points.

In the end, it was quite cruel that they holdout didn’t make it to the break. Verrills was pinned for a tip tackle despite a very low body position and the last burst of pressure was too much.

As the clock wound down on the first half, Kikau – who had suffered his own personal melodrama, with a HIA and a potential arm injury – crashed through a tired Egan Butcher to get one late for Penrith.

Manu’s kicking was able to kick-start the Roosters second half, forcing Dylan Edwards into a mistake at the back, before Walker’s boot generated two repeat sets.

The Panthers couldn’t deal with the pressure and Taukieaho was able to find the perfect line across Liam Martin to bring the Roosters right back into it.

Penrith have rarely been under the pump like this in 2022. Another repeat set forced them back, before Manu smuggled a ball untidily out of a tackle for Verrills, who went low at the line and just about got the ball down.

As soon as they went behind, the Panthers fired up again. The first ten minutes of the second half had seen an 80/20 possession split for the Roosters, and the next ten saw that reverse.

Manu was again at the heart of it, albeit negatively: he was twice offside to bounce Penrith into position, from which Cleary found Tago with a superb flat pass to return the hosts to the lead.

The halfback was suddenly controlling everything. He fired a kick in behind that Walker made a mess of, but grounded with his torso to avert disaster.

It didn’t matter. Victor Radley lined up a huge shot on Fisher-Harris, but as the Roosters reshuffled, the Kiwi prop got a quick play the ball and Koroisau darted from dummy half.

It was a soft way to end a tough performance that Penrith edged in the end, but in which the Roosters could hold their heads high.

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