Penrith lost their Friday night battle, but the Panthers might just win the war

If Anthony Griffin doesn’t congratulate his young Penrith players after the loss to the Sharks at Panthers Stadium he is a fool.

Sure, as in any game, there were errors and poor decisions. However, most were merely reflective of a lack of first grade experience rather than any deficiencies in skill or aptitude.

Once Caleb Aekins, Tyrone May, Jarome Luai and Viliame Kikau have 50 or 60 games under their belts, the competition had better beware.

Currently, they have just 39 games between them and Kikau has played the bulk of them with 24 NRL appearances.

Their raw ability and the hope they present for the future must surely have overridden the disappointment of sacrificing the two points and perhaps even a spot in the top four.

The Sharks were professional, even polished at times and did enough to dispose of the Panthers despite a few scares midway through the second-half.

Yet the lasting memory of the match will centre more on the next generation of talent that the Panthers will be desperate to nurture and keep.

Without State of Origin stars Nathan Cleary, James Maloney and Tyrone Peachey, Penrith were missing experience, combinations and class.

Panthers coach Anthony Griffin at the post game media conference.

Panthers coach Anthony Griffin at a post game media conference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the youngsters lack in that department at this stage of their careers, was more than made up for with sheer speed and brash confidence.

Caleb Aekins looked a promising player at fullback. He fielded kicks confidently and running aggressively on his returns. Still short of his 21st birthday, Aekins ran for nearly 300 metres and topped the count for his side.

May and Luai continued where they left off a week earlier in the dominant win against the Warriors. Luai is a better half-back than a few clubs have on their books right now. He is ready made and a big money offer will not be far away.

May will need a little more time to develop yet does show immense promise as a foil. The biggest issue for the Panthers will be making astute recruitment and retention decisions in order to ensure they aren’t wearing opposition colours in the future.

The fourth member of the quartet, Viliame Kikau, will not be going anywhere. If he ever does, the Penrith faithful should storm the compound that is their Leagues Club and demand to know how one of the most stunning prospects of the modern era could be let go.

The Fijian pummels the line with immense power, hits holes threateningly and when in open field, runs at a speed that belies his 120-kilogram frame.

When he brushed aside five defenders as the Panthers threw caution to the wind in desperate search of a late try, it was hair raising.

Every now and then a young forward comes along and does things of which no other player can even dream, let alone produce. I saw that talent in a young Bradley Clyde, Wayne Pearce and Sonny Bill Williams.

Kikau looks like something very special.

The Panthers might accept a loss in this battle, knowing full well that somewhere in the future they might be able to unleash their fully developed weapons on the Sharks and win something much bigger than a Friday night match at Panthers Stadium.

Parramatta travelled to Newcastle to face the Knights in the latter game and the promise of expansive and unpredictable adventure was on the cards.

It didn’t disappoint, with an end to end affair where defence was left at the front desk at times yet both teams were willing and committed.

A 10-all score was a perfect reflection of the first half, where both teams had periods of ascendency. Early Parramatta tries to Siosaia Vave and Mitchell Moses were matched by four pointers to Connor Watson and Shaun Kenny-Dowall.

Mitchell Pearce scored under the posts early in the second half and Corey Norman levelled things with a try of his own.

A Ken Sio penalty goal in the 59th minute proved to be the difference as the Knights held on for the 18-16 win. Not that the last twenty minutes wasn’t chaotic, panicked and frantic.

Bevan French’s last ditch effort in the corner is worth catching on replay if you missed it.

It was just the match you would expect between 12th and 16th on the ladder; lacking at times yet desperate and gripping just the same.

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