NYC Rd 22 Melbourne 20 Penrith 14
The Melbourne Thunderbolts have outlasted the Penrith Panthers 20-14 in a must win match at AAMI Park.by NRL
The Melbourne Thunderbolts have outlasted the Penrith Panthers 20-14 in a must win match at AAMI Park.
Sitting three points outside the top eight, the home side needed a win if they were to have any chance of playing in September. The Panthers, meanwhile, were striving for the minor premiership, and were keen to avoid their fourth loss in five games.
Both sides lost back-rowers before the game, with Steve Liki and Corey Carl joining the run on squads.
Melbourne coach Dean Pay was looking for his side to play for the full 80 after falling apart in the final 20 minutes against the Dragons.
Penrith winger Zac Mackay came close to opening the scoring, but he was stopped by a terrific tackle from Melbourne fullback Young Tonumaipea.
After forcing a goal line drop out, Penrith finally cracked Melbourne's stubborn defence. On the back of some enterprising second phase football, Penrith shifted the ball to the right edge, where Nick Walker made no mistake in the corner. The sideline conversion was pushed wide by Toby Evans.
Melbourne needed to hit back quickly, and they were gifted field position following a knock on from the kick-off. Several plays later, the home side made Penrith pay. A series of long passes caught Penrith short out wide, and after receiving a perfect ball from Tonumaipea, Dane Chang barged over to level the scores.
On the back of their second line drop out, the visitors reclaimed the lead. A glorious offload from Tom Eisenhuth put Kieran Moss over for his 17th try in just 19 matches this season. The try was converted by Mackay to give the Panthers a deserved 10-4 lead after 27 minutes.
After setting up the first try, it looked as if Tonumaipea had scored a try of his own, but the pass from ben Hampton was called forward.
Three minutes later, Penrith extended their lead with Walker grabbing his second try. Despite protests from a number of Melbourne players, the try was awarded. The sideline conversion was missed, giving the Panthers a 14-4 lead at the break.
The score line was a fair indication of Penrith's dominance, with the visitors making 670 metres compared to Melbourne's 393. The hosts could take some solace from the fact that they had looked good with limited opportunities; scoring one try and having two disallowed.
The following 40 minutes would be season defining for the Thunderbolts, and a sloppy opening quarter would have had the most ardent fans slightly worried.
Needing to hit back quickly, Melbourne went to the air on the 4th tackle, and were rewarded with a stunning try to Richard Kennar. The chip kick from Hampton was brilliantly batted back by a high flying Chang, with Kennar scoring untouched in the corner. After missing his first kick, Joass nailed the sideline conversion with a strike every bit as amazing as a Jonathan Thurston goal.
With momentum on their side, the Thunderbolts started to attack, making plenty of metres down the right edge with a number of short side raids.
On the hour mark, the hosts took the lead. On the back of a scrum, Ben Meehan drifted cross-field and linked up with the most damaging ball runner in the side. Running the perfect line, Kirisome Auva'a scored his 15th try of the season. The easy conversion from Joass gave the hosts their first lead of the game with just under 20 minutes left on the clock.
Missing 14 players through injury, the Panthers lacked the cohesion to trouble the Melbourne line. With 10 minutes remaining, the Thunderbolts capitalised.
When big Cade Umaga picked up a loose ball 70 metres out, nobody seemed too worried. However, when he linked up with Young Tonumaipea, it was shut the gate. After holding up four Penrith defenders, Umaga offered a great offload for the flying fullback to latch onto. With no room to move in, Tonumaipea somehow flew down the wing to score the match winning try. With half his body over the sideline, it was one of the more amazing tries of 2012, and capped off an incredible performance from the number one. His positioning at the back, long passing game and ability to take bombs has some people comparing him to another fullback at the club.
The 20-14 win leaves the Thunderbolts just one point outside the top eight, and with a match at home against lowly ranked Gold Coast next Friday night, a finals berth is suddenly a real possibility.
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