10 Sep 2023

Warriors blitzed by Penrith in NRL finals clash to set up sudden-death game in Auckland

6:58 am on 10 September 2023
Mitch Barnett is tackled. Penrith Panthers v New Zealand Warriors. NRL Rugby League Finals, BlueBet Stadium, Penrith, NSW, Australia, Saturday 9th September 2023.  Copyright Photo: David Neilson / www.photosport.nz

Mitch Barnett is tackled. Penrith Panthers v New Zealand Warriors. NRL Rugby League Finals, BlueBet Stadium, Penrith, NSW, Australia, Saturday 9th September 2023. Copyright Photo: David Neilson / www.photosport.nz Photo: David Neilson

Two-time defending champions the Penrith Panthers put on an NRL qualifying final clinic to dominate the Warriors 32-6 in Sydney.

The Warriors will need to regroup quickly to find their confidence before they get a second chance next weekend in Auckland.

They will host a sudden death semi-final match against either the Newcastle Knights or Canberra Raiders who face off in the elimination final.

The Warriors' shortcomings were brutally exposed with star playmaker Shaun Johnson watching from the sidelines with a calf injury.

Penrith were streaming down the field off the back of Nathan Cleary's kicking, as the Warriors were starved of possession in the opening half.

The Panthers raced out of the blocks to lead by 20-0 on the scoreboard at halftime.

The home side opened the scoring as a long ball by Moses Leota set up a try for Brian To'o.

Penrith backrower Liam Martin crashed over for their second try. Moments later winger Sunia Turuva etched his name on the scoresheet, finishing off a back-line play to score in the corner.

The Warriors scored their only try in the second half, with Wayde Egan finding the line after a big run from winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.

It was a short-lived revival as the try was swiftly answered by Penrith's Sunia Turuva scoring his double in the corner.

The outstanding Cleary had the last say after bursting through the Warriors' defence as Penrith sealed with win with five tries to the Warriors' one.

Warriors skipper Tohu Harris was placed on report for a dangerous tackle on Penrith centre Luke Garner during the match.

With the win the Panthers booked a home preliminary final and are one step away from the Grand Final in their bid to secure their third straight premiership.

Roosters pip Cronulla

In the late game, the Roosters booked their ticket to the NRL semifinals with a messy 13-12 win over Cronulla at Shark Park on the back of a 72nd-minute Sam Walker field goal.

Roosters coach Trent Robinson described it as possibly the gutsiest win he has been a part of.

"The spirit we played with was top end. There was lots of reasons not to win that game," he told reporters.

It was a scrappy victory for the Roosters, who lost winger Joseph-Aukuso Sua'ali'i (concussion) at halftime and Kiwis centre Joey Manu (hamstring) early in the second half.

Captain and fullback James Tedesco was sin-binned for a professional fall just after Manu left the field, reducing them to 12 men for 10 minutes and forcing a complete reshuffle of the back five, including sending 20-year-old halfback Sandon Smith to fullback.

"It got really wild," Robinson said.

"I've got fullbacks coming out my ears all year and then all of a sudden I'm without any."

The Sharks scored one try and kicked a penalty goal in that period to take a 12-6 lead, but could not home that advantage as they struggled to execute in attack for most of the night.

The Roosters hit back when Smith's grubber ricocheted off the legs of a Cronulla defender and back rower Siua Wong, who moved to the centres for the second half, pounced.

Centre Billy Smith, described by coach Trent Robinson as a fifth-string kicker at best, tied the scores with his first NRL goal from 19 metres in from touch under immense pressure with 11 minutes left.

Halfback Sam Walker, who was dropped in April and only returned in the penultimate regular season round, stepped up and slotted a match-winning field goal in the 72nd minute, but it was only a match-winner thanks to two heroic moments from the Roosters' elder statesmen.

Tedesco and five-eighth Luke Keary managed back-to-back chargedowns of Nicho Hynes's attempted equalisers in the dying minutes.

After going out in straight sets as the second seed in last year's finals and winning only three games against top-eight opponents this year, the Sharks are set for some soul-searching.

They led 6-0 at half-time thanks to a Sione Katoa try, but that was cancelled out almost immediately after the break when Walker put Manu over on the right wing, and Cronulla missed some key opportunities while out-numbering the Roosters 13-12.

Retiring captain Wade Graham said the players would "get a lot out of that game", while coach Craig Fitzgibbon said they were "starting to grow up as a footy team".