The Raiders’ plans to “ambush” the Panthers has backfired in spectacular fashion, with the reigning premiers cruising to an easy win in a fiery contest between the two rivals.
Despite being without their first-choice halves pairing in Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai, the Panthers’ replacements filled in with aplomb in the 26-6 win at GIO Stadium.
There was plenty of byplay in the lead-up to the match, after a Raiders official told Wide World of Sports the team had “been waiting for this game” after a series of heated contests between the two sides in recent seasons.
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The bad blood between the two sides threatened to boil over when Raiders winger Nick Cotric clobbered Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards with a ‘coathanger’ tackle in the first minute of the second half.
Nick Cotric cleaned up Dylan Edwards with a flying forearm in the 41st minute of the match (Fox League)
Cotric’s flying arm caused a brief scuffle between players from both sides before he was sent to the sin bin by referee Grant Atkins.
Following his side’s win, Edwards downplayed the incident and said the Panthers were prepared for the aggression the Raiders came with.
“I’m all right, a bit banged up but that’s footy,” he told Fox League.
“We knew Canberra were going to come out well, and [be] physical like they did early on, we were just happy to weather them and come over the top.
NRL Highlights: Raiders v Panthers – Round 21
“All good things come off the back of good defence, we were able to repel them with 12 men, we got a bit of practice at that last week and it paid off a bit there. The boys really dug deep for each other.”
To make make matters worse for Canberra, it lost star prop Joseph Tapine to a rib injury during the contest.
A first-half collision left Tapine “buckled over” on the sideline and he did not play any further part in the game.
“This is a big moment in Canberra’s season, their form front-rower down on his haunches,” said Michael Ennis on Fox League’s coverage.
Jaeman Salmon scored a try in an impressive performance for the Panthers (Getty)
“It was innocuous … something just popped in the collision – maybe a rib cartilage.”
Jaeman Salmon and Sean O’Sullivan steered the Panthers around the ground admirably in the absence of Cleary and Luai, with the stand-in No.6 capping his performance with a try in the 64th minute after Api Koroisau, Stephen Crichton and Edwards also crossed over.
The loss is a massive blow to the Raiders’ finals aspirations, with Ricky Stuart’s side now two points adrift of the eighth-placed Roosters.
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Penrith remains firmly entrenched at the top of the ladder with an 18-2 record through 20 matches this season.
Ivan Cleary’s side will host the Melbourne Storm next week to kick off round 22, while the Raiders will face the Dragons at home in a do-or-die clash.
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