Warriors coach Stephen Kearney labelled his team’s performance their best of the season in trouncing the Panthers 36-16 to end a seven-year NRL play-off drought.
A hat-trick to David Fusitu’a and masterful display from Shaun Johnson laid the foundations of a memorable win which ensures the Kiwi club enters the post-season for the first time since 2011.
Hot and cold performances over the last two months left the Warriors’ fate on tenterhooks for an extended period but the Panthers never threatened to halt the party for 17,195 supporters.
It was a disastrous night for the visitors, who appear to have lost Centre Dean Whare for the season with a fractured forearm.
A second successive loss under caretaker coach Cameron Ciraldo drops Penrith from fifth to sixth and drives a dagger through their top-four hopes.
It also reduces the slim play-off dream of the ninth-placed Wests Tigers, who need Brisbane to lose their last two games to have any chance.
Kearney was pleased to put their top-eight pursuit “to bed” for the sake of the club’s long-suffering supporters.
He agreed they hadn’t played a better game in 2018.
“I think so. It was the first time we opened up a bit,” he said.
“We’ve talked about working to create a little bit of magic and I thought that happened at times tonight.”
Ciraldo didn’t see his team’s clumsy display coming although he believed it was an improvement on last week’s loss to Newcastle.
It was another harsh lesson for the young mentor in just his third game since replacing the axed Anthony Griffin.
“I haven’t been thinking of it as a learning curve or anything like that,” he said.
“I’ve just got everyone doing their best to try to make the club successful.”
Halfback Johnson was the game’s most potent attacking figure, down his team’s lethal right edge.
Strapping winger Fusitu’a was the chief beneficiary, going top of the competition try-scoring list on 21 as his team cast out the demons of their dreadful 36-4 loss in Penrith last month.
Wanting to halt a run of slow starts to matches, the Panthers did exactly the opposite.
Pinged heavily by referee Ashley Klein, they didn’t touch the ball in the first nine minutes.
The Warriors led 8-0 by then, on the back of a simple dummy-half try to prop Agnatius Paasi.
A trademark try in the corner to Fusitu’a was followed by a gritty solo score from Mason Lino, filling in for injured five-eighth Blake Green.
Penrith’s hopes dived further when centre Dean Whare left the game with an apparent hand injury.
They conjured a fortunate try before the break to winger Josh Mansour to trail 18-4.
Fusitu’a crossed twice more in the third quarter, the hat-trick coming off a sizzling 50m Johnson burst.
Solomone Kata extended the lead before Waqa Blake and Trent Merrin bagged Panthers consolation tries.
Article link: Warriors Book Finals spot with trouncing of free-falling Panthers. Written by Daniel Gilhooly, on The Roar - Your Sports Opinion.
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