Penrith’s returning Origin stars have orchestrated a 42-6 demolition of the Knights, while the Warriors and Tigers lost their first games under new management.
Stacey Jones’s first game in charge of the Warriors was the sort of inconsistent performance we have come to expect from the Redcliffe-based side, losing 38-16 to the Sharks; While Brett Kimmorley’s first outing as Tigers coach was not made easier by Brent Naden being sent off for a lifting tackle on the Sea Eagles’ Jake Trbojevic. The Tigers lost 30-4 to Manly.
But as those sides’ struggles continued, Penrith showed them what an elite top-flight NRL side looks like.
State of Origin coaches Brad Fittler and Billy Slater will be in very different moods after their 36-point win over Newcastle.
Four days after the disappointment of losing State of Origin I, Penrith’s Blues stars — particularly halves Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai — made a triumphant return to the club scene, while Newcastle and Queensland fullback Kalyn Ponga left the game in the first half after a nasty head knock.
Cleary and Luai controlled the game in a way they could not on Wednesday night, while fellow Blues Stephen Crichton, Brian To’o and Liam Martin also backed up from the 16-10 loss to Queensland to help the Panthers notch their fifth straight win.
Despite not coming off the field after his head knock early in Origin I, Isaah Yeo did not play at Hunter Stadium.
One man who could not stay on the park after his first-half collision on Sunday was Knights and Maroons fullback Ponga, who got steamrolled by Viliame Kikau on his way to Penrith’s second try in the 14th minute.
Ponga did not return to the game after failing his head injury assessment and will be monitored closely with two weeks until Origin II.
Sunday’s game was the sort of rout one would expect from a game between two teams that are 11 spots apart on the ladder, with Penrith crossing for the first of their seven tries in just the fifth minute.
It came on the back of some electric interplay between Luai and Cleary for the halfback to cross, before Kikau produced his powerful effort to crash over.
From there the Panthers used their slick outside backs, with all four of their centre-wing unit scoring — To’o doing so twice.
Newcastle’s only points came from a 74th-minute consolation try for Edrick Lee and the ensuing conversion.
No Stacey Jones magic for Warriors in loss to Sharks
In their first game since the departure of coach Nathan Brown, the Warriors put on a very similar performance to the rest of their season, flashing some impressive skills but not matching it with their opponent for the full 80 minutes.
They actually jumped out to a 12-0 lead in the opening exchanges thanks to tries to Reece Walsh and Wayde Egan, but it was all Cronulla from there.
The Sharks ran in five straight tries in the final 25 minutes of the first half to take 24-12 lead to the break.
Warriors winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak produced a spectacular flying finish to kickstart the second-half scoring in the 53rd minute, but it was to be the final highlight for the side, as handling errors and poor defense cost them yet again.
Sharks winger Ronald Mulitalo completed his double, fullback Will Kennedy dotted down, and Sione Katoa finished off a hat-trick as Cronulla bounced back from a 36-16 loss to the Roosters in their last start two weeks ago.
Things get much harder for the Warriors next week as they go up against the Panthers for their final game at Redcliffe, before their homecoming against the Tigers at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium in round 16.
New coach, same result for Tigers against Manly
Interim Wests Tigers coach Brett Kimmorley has endured a rough introduction to NRL coaching, losing 30-4 against Manly and finishing the game with 12 men on the field.
Stepping in after the departure of Michael Maguire, Kimmorley will likely be forced into a backline reshuffles, as the Tigers will almost definitely be without Brent Naden for a few weeks after he was sent off for an ugly lifting tackle at Campbelltown.
The center could lay the blame for his dangerous effort at the feet of a first-half head knock, which floored him for quite some time, but he eventually passed a head injury assessment and was allowed to return.
Playing his third game for the Tigers since arriving from the Bulldogs late last month, Naden looked below his best in the second half, missing assignments that led directly to game-changing tries by Reuben Garrick and Haumole Olakau’atu.
They gave the Sea Eagles a 12-point second-half lead, which was pushed out beyond two converted tries when Garrick potted the penalty goal after Naden’s spear tackle with 15 minutes left.
The story was better for Manly, playing without captain Daly Cherry-Evans after his Origin win with Queensland on Wednesday.
The first half against the Tigers was a relatively close contest — the Sea Eagles up 6-4 at the break — before the late onslaught.
Olakau’atu was particularly impressive for Manly, and may have a difficult decision to make with the representative round looming.
The back rower is committed to Tonga and eligible to play for the Blues, but cannot do both as Tonga plays a Test match on June 25, one day before Origin II in Perth.
While he was the shining light for the Manly forward pack, he was prop Josh Aloiai who jagged a rare double, scoring Manly’s first and last tries of the match.
Speedster Tolutau Koula also crossed for the first time in his short NRL career as the Sea Eagles took advantage of the diminished Tigers late.
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