The Panthers secured second spot on the NRL ladder for the season on Saturday night when they thrashed the Sharks 50 – 12 at CUA Stadium boosting their confidence as they head into the finals for the first time in six years.
Penrith have had possibly the easiest run to the finals with games against the Rabbitohs, Bulldogs and then the Sharks over the past three weeks, which the Mountain Men have won all of to push up to one below the Minor Premiership winning Dragons.
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A home game semi against the Raiders is now on the cards for the Panthers, who are also the current second favourites to go all the way and win the Premiership shield on the first Sunday of October at $5.25 through Ladbrokes.com.au.
The season is now officially over for the sorry Sharks, who managed just seven wins this season to finish 14th on the ladder above only the Cowboys and the out-of-contention Storm.
Cronulla didn’t only say goodbye to 2010 footy, they also farewelled their retiring captain Trent Barrett who has now played his final NRL game.
The Sharks looked a mere shadow of the team that claimed a shock win over the Titans last week and did little to impress any of their meek supporters that turned up to see them off for the year.
It was a massive victory for Penrith on Saturday who stormed home scoring nine tries to Cronulla’s two, highlighted by a triple from backrower Frank Pritchard, who is heading to Canterbury next season, and a double from both Michael Jennings and Brad Tighe.
What made their performance even better was the host of stars they were forced to play without including suspended skipper Petero Civoniceva and injured players Lachlan Coote and Luke Walsh.
Pritchard opened the scoring just three minutes in followed in quick succession by Jennings’ first of the night in the 12th minute and then a Brad Tighe four-pointer three minutes later.
Michael Gordon booted three from three and after the first quarter the home side were already well in front 18 – nil.
Before the first half woes of the visitors were over, Penrith got in another two tries as Pritchard scored his second in the 27th minute and then a minute from the break Jennings completed his double after picking up an Adam Cuthbertson offload to no one and running 50 metres down the field.
In between the two the Sharks finally opened their account in the 33rd minute with Blake Ferguson scoring after an impressive chip and chase and Luke Covell converting to narrow the margin by six.
But with Gordon kicking another one from two the big cats had a comfortable 22 point lead to take to the sheds.
Back in the second half it was more of the same with the Panthers totally dominating in both attack and defence.
Four minutes in Wade Graham scored their sixth try of the night pushing the score to 34 – 6.
Cronulla only got one more try in for the season when fullback Nathan Gardner put in a brilliant 90 metre effort in the 58th minute and Covell made it two from two giving them a total of 12 points.
However the Panthers weren’t done yet by any means and in a stunning final quarter they scored three more tries to post 50 points for the night.
Pritchard made it a hat-trick in the 63rd minute, Tighe scored his second four minutes later and then with three minutes left on the clock Nathan Smith added further gloss to the score with a final four pointer.
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