The Panthers and Rabbitohs met in last year’s decider and while the reigning champions may be undermanned, Thursday night’s rematch has certainly delivered.
Both sides are level at the break, although the Rabbitohs have made seven linebreaks, described by Fox League’s Andrew Voss as an “extraordinary” statistic.
It is worrying for Penrith that its edges are getting pulled apart so easily but the Panthers are also scrambling admirably and well in it at the break.
Stream every game of every round of the 2022 NRL Telstra Premiership Season Live & Ad-Break Free During Play on Kayo. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >
Of course, it would take some magic from Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker to spark South Sydney to life in the latter stages of the second half.
Mitchell started it, throwing the dummy and attracting Liam Martin and Jaeman Salmon to come in before popping a pass for Walker who burst through.
“There is nothing on here,” Michael Ennis said in commentary for Fox League.
“Just the instinct of Cody Walker to push through and sense something is about to unfold here. Using his eyes, looks away and throws the dummy.”
A penalty on the last tackle then saw South Sydney kick to level the scores at 12-all.
There were close calls for both sides, with Jaxson Paulo and Liam Martin both knocking the ball on with tries begging.
The Rabbitohs had a try denied only minutes earlier after Tevita Tatola was ruled offside and playing an active role in the lead-up to a Damien Cook try.
The Panthers, on the other hand, had the Bunker rule in their favour in the 28th minute when Dylan Edwards sliced through.
Sean O’Sullivan dug deep into the line while Izack Tago was a strong decoy option, fooling two South Sydney defenders, although the try was reviewed for an obstruction.
The Bunker ended up awarding the try, earning praise from Michael Ennis.
“If you watch that from the reverse angle, I don’t think there is anything else Izack Tago could do,” he said in commentary for Fox League. “It’s a poor defensive read and I think they get it right.”
South Sydney had pulled Penrith’s edges apart on a number of occasions early in the game but scrambling defence had continually denied them.
That was until some brilliant lead-up work from Cody Walker and quick hands from Isaiah Tass saw Alex Johnston score for the seventh-straight game — a first in his career.
Fox League’s Andrew Voss described it as an “incredible” record for Johnston but Michael Ennis was full of praise for the man who sparked the try and earlier linebreak in the set.
“It’s that man who is causing them havoc,” Ennis said of Walker.
“Just the watch the tempo in which Cody Walker plays, it’s slow, it’s controlled. He just holds it up… he’s a magician with the ball. Beautiful for Tass and leaves them with no choice but to come in. It is magnificent.”
Ennis said it was a “worry” the way Walker and his fellow playmakers were finding numbers on the edges of the Penrith defence.
The Panthers put the pressure on the Rabbitohs early and forced Cook into a poor pass from dummy-half and centre Stephen Crichton swooped to run away and score.
“Rabbitohs fans think they’re in a nightmare,” Andrew Voss said in commentary for Fox League.
“Can you believe it Andrew?” Michael Ennis asked.
“It was a really poor pass and he swooped Stephen Crichton. It’s the Panthers winning the battle with their defence. They’re up, frustrating and forcing the Rabbitohs into a few errors.
“So sloppy from the Rabbitohs. Even Wayne Bennett got the shakes.”
Of course, Crichton pounced on a Cody Walker pass in the 2021 grand final to seal Penrith’s premiership so it was an unfortunate case of deja-vu for South Sydney fans on Thursday.
FOLLOW THE ACTION IN OUR LIVE BLOG BELOW. CAN’T SEE IT? CLICK HERE.