Western Rams coach Paul McDonald and his Penrith Panthers counterpart Michael Stuart collectively exhaled after a tense final 10 minutes of their Laurie Daley Cup clash on Glen Willow’s back field.
In a surprisingly heated country championship under 18s clash, Penrith overcame a 16-4 halt-time deficit to storm to a two-point lead against a Rams line-up minus influential hooker Campbell Woolnough.
The Panthers under 17s side, which includes Mavrik Geyer, the son of Panthers legend Mark, threw everything at Western in its country debut.
But the defending champions hit back through the right boot of Wellington centre Brock Naden, his penalty inside the final five minutes locking the score up at 18-all and securing the hosts a valuable point to kick off their 2018 campaign.
In his first game coaching the Rams under 18s, McDonald couldn’t fault Western’s effort in the face of a tremendous Panthers outfit.
“We’ve come off 16-4 ahead and the boys should be proud of that effort,” McDonald said, the clash played in humid, trying conditions.
“Panthers play a very simple game plan, high completion, and we gave them too many opportunities (in the second half).”
The second half penalty count read 7-2 in favour of the Penrith side.
“We probably didn’t manage the game as well as we should have. That comes from experience, and these guy swill get better at that each week,” McDonald added.
McDonald noted the absence of Woolnough, who was the NSW Country under 16s hooker in 2017, but praised his replacement.
“Huge rap to Patty Haycock, who only got the phone call late (Friday night). I thought he had an excellent game,” he added.
Western shot out to a 12-0 lead but it could very well have been a different story.
Panthers winger Jeffry Sialaoa-Ofoia twice had four-pointers denied, the first after his right foot touched the chalk and the second via a clutch intercept from his opposite, Rams winger Denis Spathis.
As the last line of defence, Spathis plucked a Cooper Pereira off-load and then raced 98 metres to score a great individual try.
Western scored twice more in the first period, the second an acrobatic effort in the corner from Spathis, to off-set Mason Iaria’s try for Penrith, the district's first as a country championship outfit.
But then, the next 35 minutes, by and large, belonged to the mountain men.
Sadee Sub Laban and Taylan May both scored converted four-pointers before the right boot of Flynn Isaacs edged the men in black up 18-16.
But game management cost the visiting Sydney outfit a chance at competition points, Naden’s penalty locking up the final scoreline at 18-all.
McDonald said Penrith, despite being an under 17s side, will be a tough assignment for country teams during the championship.
“I like to think Penrith is our country brother in the city,” he smiled.
“It’s good to play against them, but I suppose at the end of the day we want to represent Western Division as best we can.”
- WESTERN RAMS 18 (Denis Spathis 2, Nic Barlow tries; Coopa Martin 2, Brock Naden goals) drew with PENRITH PANTHERS 18 (Mason Iaria, Sadee Sub Laban, Taylan May tries; Flynn Isaacs 3 goals).