Bonus point win, but Penrith must improve
PENRITH returned from Newcastle with the bonus point win they set out for, but it did not quite come in the manner they expected.
They ended up sharing 10 tries with Northern who are struggling at the bottom of the table. It was only the goal kicking that separated the two sides — and Penrith had stand-in place kicker George Graham to thank for that.
Penrith’s away form of late has been shaky to say the least and they started inauspiciously when the home kick-off bounced into touch without any of the forwards laying a hand on it.
The home side, with a strong breeze at their backs, then had the better of the opening minutes as they spent time in the Penrith 22, but did not seriously threaten.
It was the visitors who opened the scoring after they got a bit of possession. A clean Ross Jackson break saw them make ground into the opposition half where they were awarded a penalty which they kicked to the corner.
They won clean lineout ball which, after an initial drive from the forwards, was moved across field. A home defender flew out of the defensive line and was clearly offside under his own posts and the referee duly awarded the kick. There had been some discussion before the game about who would undertake kicking duties in the absence of Matt Allinson, and Graham took charge of the situation and knocked it over without any fuss.
It was then Northern’s turn to attack. They kicked a wind-assisted penalty into the Cumbrians’ 22 and set up the catch and drive from the lineout. The defenders were able to bring the drive to a halt but then had to tackle desperately as home side battered the line. They looked to have successfully held out, but the referee was playing advantage and they had earlier been penalised. This penalty was again kicked to the corner and this time the home side’s catch and drive was better worked and they forced the Penrith eight back to claim the try.
The conversion was missed, but the home team led by two points and for a while there was little in it. However, the Winters Park men then had a frantic 10 minutes during which they scored four tries and looked to have run away with the game.
Mike Raine took a line-out ball on halfway and the forwards drove the ensuing maul almost up to the 22. There was then a series of phases forcing play up the middle before the ball went right to Jamie McNaughton, who found flanker Tom Lindsay on his outside and he was stopped just short by a scrambling defence. The ball was quickly recycled and when it went left, Dan Richardson found himself in acres of space and was tackled only as he crossed the line. Graham hit a difficult conversion into the wind.
Penrith now had their tails up and strong running by Brad Taylor and Lindsay among others saw them again in the home 22. Ryan Johnson burst through the defensive line and, when faced with the full back, unselfishly drew him and released Graham who strolled over under the posts.
They added their third try after Raine, Graham and McNaughton combined off the back of a set scrum and drew the cover into the middle of the field. Play was then spread rapidly right and a long pass found prop Will Morgan on the wing, virtually on his own some 40 metres from the line. In a run the big prop will talk about for years, he outpaced the cover and beat the last defender on the outside to score a winger’s try in the corner.
From the restart, Dan Morgan secured the ball and it was moved to the backs where Taylor hit the gap, broke clear and went unchallenged under the posts. That was the bonus point try, and at 29-5 it looked to be game, set and match as Northern looked a beaten and bedraggled side. That is not how it worked out though, as the home side staged a dogged fightback.
Some slack defending in the Penrith midfield allowed them to score under the posts in the last play of the first half and supplied them with a glimmer of hope.
The home side started the second half brightly, but it was Penrith who scored first. Jay Rossi engineered himself a telling break and was brought down by the full back in the 22. Dan Morgan did well to get to him in support and took the pass flicked off the ground and went in for the try. Graham hit his fourth conversion out of five.
The game was then turned on its head as Northern began an improbable fightback, scoring 17 unanswered points, including three tries, to put the game right back in the melting pot.
Their first try was a messy affair after the ball was hacked through; the next came from the restart when the Penrith backs would not have been happy with their defending; and the third came as the home side piled on the pressure and forced their way over following a five-metre scrum.
At this stage there was more than 20 minutes left on the clock and the game could have gone either way. What did not look to be on the cards was a scoreless final quarter, but that is how it turned out, with the Cumbrians hanging on to claim the spoils.
Northern rather ran out of steam as the game came to a close and Penrith regained some composure to calm things down and see it out. They ended up on the front foot in the home 22, with a penalty shot at goal from the final kick of the game.
It was a strange game, with play swinging one way and then the other. Ten tries were scored, with seven of them into the brisk wind. Penrith broke their run of four away defeats, but they will have to improve on this if they are to progress.