Without doubt, the top game of round eleven of the NRL was the match between the fourth placed South Sydney Rabbitohs and top of the table and unbeaten Penrith Panthers as the visitors looked to go four points clear of the chasing pack, Paramatta still to play their eleventh round game.
Penrith have recorded big points wins in their last two outings while leaking an average of under eight points per game, the Rabbitohs really up against it despite being just three places behind the visitors on the league ladder.
Mitchell was back for Wayne Bennet’s Rabbitohs after serving a suspension with Josh Mansour also back in the side, while Ivan Cleary moved Stephen Crichton to full back and Paul Momirovski into the centres.
A fantastic determined effort from Nathan Cleary opened the Panthers scoring with just four minutes on the clock as he span twice on the line before getting the ball to ground under the tackle of Cody Walker. The Panthers couldn’t add the extras, hitting the far upright with his kick.
On twelve minutes the Panthers were in again as they kept the ball alive, Viliame Kikau being involved twice in the move, the second time receiving the inside pass to shrug off a tackle and walk over in the left corner. Cleary curled his kick inside the far upright for a 10-0 lead, a devastating start and a taster of what was to come.
Inside two minutes the Panthers scored their third, this one a sixty-metre effort as Kurt Capewell took an Isaah Yeo pass and showed an extraordinary turn of pace to carve through the defence and cross in the corner. Cleary added the touchline conversion, Penrith scoring at a point a minute.
Two tackles after getting a penalty for obstruction close to the Bunnies line, fast hands across the field saw the ball into the hands of Matt Burton with the centre crossing to score in the left corner. Cleary was again accurate with the boot for 22-0, the game rapidly slipping from South Sydney.
Burton got his second on thirty-one collecting a Cleary high kick a metre from the South Sydney line and turning around to drop to the line to score, the defenders doing little to make the try difficult. Cleary added his fourth conversion.
The one-way traffic was momentarily reversed on thirty-seven as the Bunnies finally got on the scoreboard, Latrell Mitchell finding Josh Mansour who beat the last defender and dive over in the corner. Adam Reynolds added the touchline goal.
The final score of the half came from the boot of Cleary after the Rabbitohs broke from the scrum before the ball was out. Penrith taking an unassailable 30-6 lead into half-time after totally dominating the first forty.
As the first half finished, the second started via the boot of Cleary who kicked a fiftieth minute penalty goal to further extend the lead.
The first Panthers try of the second half was a scrappy one, but Burton couldn’t care less as he completed his hat-trick after picking up a loose pass off the ground and carrying it one-handed diving for the line to score. Cleary added the conversion for 38-6, normal Penrith service was resumed.
Cleary got his second try on fifty-seven through ineffective South Sydney defence as he evaded the efforts of three tacklers to get the ball down on the line from ten metres out. He added an eighth goal of the afternoon for a personal haul of twenty-six points in a 44-6 lead.
The Bunnies were into double figures on sixty-two as Cody Walker stepped off both feet to go in from fifteen metres out. Reynolds added the extras, but any Bunnies points were about trying to save face, the points had already long gone.
A diving lunge for the line from To’o off a Cleary miss-out pass gave the winger a spectacular try in the corner for the Panthers eighth try of the afternoon. Cleary added the touchline conversion to bring up the fifty.
It was all too easy for Stephen Crichton as he took a Burton pass twenty from the line to jog in under the sticks and give Cleary a simple conversion for 56-12.
The Rabbitohs discovered today how ruthless the Panthers are as they continue their incredible run at the start of the season, and how far the side in fourth place are away from the leaders. If the rest of the league needed to be reminded how good the Panthers are, they just needed to watch their demolition of the Bunnies today. Who will stop them in 2021?
South Sydney Rabbitohs: Mitchell, Johnston, Gagai, Graham, Mansour (T), Walker (T), Reynolds (2G), Burgess, Cook, Tatola, Koloamatrangi, Su’A, Knights. Subs: Marshall, Nicholls, Arrow, Cartwright. 18th: Burns.
Penrith Panthers: Crichton (T), Staines, Burton (3T), Momirovski, To’o (T), Luai, Cleary (2T, 10G), Fisher-Harris, Koroisau, Martin, Kikau (T), Capewell (T), Yeo. Subs: May, Sorensen, Eisenhuth, Leniu. 18th: Jennings.
Referee: Grant Atkins.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-8, 0-10, 0-14, 0-16, 0-20, 0-22, 0-26, 0-28, 4-28, 6-28, 6-30 : HT : 6-32, 6-36, 6-38, 6-42, 6-44, 10-44, 12-44, 12-48, 12-50, 12-54, 12-56 : FT.