The ladder-leading Penrith Panthers have claimed a 25-12 win over the Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium in a somewhat surprising result.
The Panthers claimed a 12th straight win in the clash and were expected to blow the Broncos off the park but Brisbane showed some grit to keep it close, conceding the fewest points in its current eight-game losing streak.
But ultimately, the polish of the best team in the competition came to the fore late in each half.
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The Panthers have now become the first team since the Sharks in 2016 to win 12 in a row, with only the 2012-13 Storm and 2016 Sharks on 15 straight, and the 2002 Bulldogs‘ 17 straight with longer winning streaks than the 2020 Panthers in the NRL era.
The team also became the seventh team in Australian rugby league history to have just one loss in 17 games, joining the 1935 Roosters, 1951 Rabbitohs, 1954 Newtown Jets, 1959 Dragons, 1995 Sea Eagles and 2002 Bulldogs.
But while the side appears near-certainties to claim the minor premiership, the Broncos, in the midst of the worst season in club history, put up an unexpected fight.
The Broncos scored first and it took another 15 minutes for the Panthers to reply before taking a 14-6 lead to the break.
With nothing to play for but pride – and trying to avoid the wooden spoon – for the rest of the season, the Broncos put in a gutsy effort to stay in the game.
The Panthers were nowhere near their best but there is a reason the side are on top of the ladder, showing the class to get them over the line.
A try to Jerome Luai in the second half pushed the score out to 20-6 in the 55th minute, although not everyone was convinced.
Diving on a loose ball, Luai got his fingertips on the ball.
“It was a good effort but I‘ll tell you, in 1982 that’s a knock-on,” Channel 9’s Paul Vautin said in commentary. “He‘s maintained some sort of finger on that, that’s all you’ve got to do. So now they‘re sneaking away here Penrith.”
The Broncos then showed that they were there to play, pulling off two of the moments of the game.
The side looked to threaten the Panthers in the final 20 minutes when bench forward Jordan Riki ran onto a short ball from Tom Dearden 45m out.
After bursting into the backfield, Riki, in his fourth game, scored a stunning try, throwing a big dummy and running around Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards.
On Fox Sports, Braith Anasta raved about the try.
“What a play here from Dearden and what a try from Jordan,” he said. “He had plenty of work to do there Riki.
“What a first try in the NRL from Riki, that‘s a huge effort, the show and go but then the speed from the big man to beat Edwards who is no slouch. That’ll be on his highlights reel forever and that was a beauty.”
The 22-year-old from Christchurch was thrilled to score, flexing after throwing down the ball.
On Channel 9, Paul Vautin liked what he saw.
“Brilliant stuff by the Broncos, look at him go the young fella, Jordan Riki had some toe didn‘t he the backrower,” he said.
“Wonderful run, wonderful try.”
Then with two minutes left, Broncos centre Kotoni Staggs pushed off the Panthers’ Josh Mansour with a brutal fend that sent winger flying.
Next week, the Panthers should have a stiffer contest against the Parramatta Eels on Friday night, while the Broncos will face the Gold Coast Titans on Saturday afternoon, attempting to avoid the club’s longest ever losing streak.