In front of an enormous 20,280 screaming fans, the Penrith Panthers have extended their winning streak to seven matches, by defeating the New Zealand Warriors by 34 points to 12. In an awesome display of strength and skill, Penrith gave the Warriors no latitude to play expansive football and took full advantage of the high error rate from the visitors.
Coach Johnny Lang must be commended for turning around this team from wooden spooners at the end of 2001 to a team looking like they'll make the top eight convincingly and may just surprise a few of the big boys when they get there.
It was a good start by the Warriors, who scored after just three minutes and looked sharp in the early exchanges. Captain Monty Betham opened their account following through on a well-placed Stacey Jones kick. From there the game was back and forth for a good ten minutes before consistent pressure from the Panthers finally lead to man of the match Preston Campbell carving up the defence and scoring under the posts.
Four minutes later Campbell was at it again, backing up a break by Luke Rooney and scoring out wide. The Warriors appeared to be frustrated with their lack of discipline forcing themselves into mistakes. They were twice denied tries by the video referee and this seemed to have a profound effect on their concentration in the second half.
At 12-6 behind though, the Warriors were still very much in the game.
The second half saw Perth explode out of the box and the proverbial flood gates well and truly opened. Further tries to Whatuira, Howland and a third to Campbell proved too much for the tiring Warriors as they seemed to slip back into habits that plagued the team before the arrival of Daniel Anderson.
A try to Motu Tony in the 74th minute appeared to be a way of ending the night on a positive for the New Zealanders, but boom prop Trent Waterhouse spoilt the party with an 80th minute effort that bought the house down at Penrith.
Preston Campbell was well and truly the star of the show tonight, bagging a hat-trick of tries and kicking five goals for a personal tally of 22 points. Campbell overshadowed the recent efforts of try-scoring whiz Rhys Wesser for the night with a sensational effort that will have many convinced he is back to the form he showed in the 2001 season. Other notable performers were Craig Gower, Luke Priddis and the ever-present Scott Sattler.
For the Warriors though, it was a night to forget, with many people questioning their credentials after a losing streak that is seriously threatening their assault on this year's premiership and any hope of retaining the J.J. Giltinan Shield. Jones tried hard but seems to be lacking support and without the likes of Cleary, Campion and the injured Lauititi, the outlook is bleak for the men across the Tasman.
Saturday 31 May 2003 Penrith Football Stadium Referee: Paul Simpkins
League Unlimited Player of the Year Award 3 - Preston Campbell 2 - Craig Gower 1 - Luke Priddis
Scorers: PANTHERS 34 Tries: Campbell 3, Whatuira, Howland, Waterhouse Goals: Campbell 5/7 WARRIORS 12 Tries: Betham, Tony Goals: Jones 2/2
By the clock:
3 min: Monty Betham goes over from a Stacey Jones grubber to the in-goal. The decision is referred to the video referee for confirmation. Try awarded - Warriors lead 4-0.
5 min: Conversion by Jones successful.
15 min: Drop-out by Warriors after sustained pressure from Panthers.
18 min: Preston Campbell scores a superb try, cutting the Warriors defence to shreds and stepping his way under the black dot. The momentum has swung to the Panthers after a heavy possession count. Warriors lead 6-4.
19 min: Campbell converts his own try from right in front.
22 min: Campbell in again after a cut-out pass finds Luke Rooney down the sideline who off loads to Campbell back on the inside. Panthers 10-6.
24 min: Preston strikes it sweetly to take the lead to 12-6.
31 min: No try awarded to Francis Meli after he puts down an opportunity from a cross-field bomb.
38 min: Sione Faumuina goes over 10 in from touch. Video referee called in to adjudicate and No Try awarded. Penrith given a penalty for obstruction to the player scoring. Panthers still lead 12-6.
Penrith on top despite a late rally from the Warriors climaxing in a near try to Faumuina. Big home crowd for the clash which should be a real contest in the second stanza.
48 min: Campbell opens up a gap and sends Paul Whatuira over the line. Decision goes to the video referee again - this time over a suspected knock-on. Try awarded, Panthers lead 16-6 with a kick to come.
50 min: Campbell converts to stretch the lead to 18-6.
52 min: Penalty given to Penrith infront of the sticks. Campbell pops over two more. 20-6. Attendance 20,280.
57 min: Strife erupts between Priddis and Webb. Penalty given to Warriors. Warriors find touch from kick.
61 min: Backline move by Penrith sees Brett Howland take the ball over the line out wide. 24-6 to the Panthers with a difficult kick for Campbell to come.
63 min: Campbell misses conversion, score remains 24-6.
66 min: Gower bomb out wide sees ball batted back by Rooney into the waiting arms of Campbell for his hat-trick try. Panthers lead 28-6 with a kick to come.
68 min: Campbell pots a sensational conversion kick from out wide. Penrith 30 Warriors 6.
71 min: The Tookey juggernaut is stopped in its tracks over the line by Rhys Wesser, saving a certain try to the Warriors. 30-6.
74 min: Warriors break the drought through an opportunistic try to Motu Tony. A well weighted kick is helped over the line by a Shane Rodney mistake and Tony is there to collect the spoils, next to the posts.
76 min: Jones makes no mistake with the conversion. Penrith continue to lead 30-12.
80 min: Trent Waterhouse caps off a great night for the Panthers, barging over the line after a slick Gower pass. Penrith lead 34-12 with a kick to come.
80 min: Campbell fails with a hard attempt, scoreline remains Penrith 34 Warriors 12.
Penrith continue their winning streak, making it seven wins in a row and increasing the new club record in the process. A completely dominant display from the Mountain Men who shut out the visitors for much of the game and out played them in every department.