The Canberra Raiders have suffered their second defeat in three weeks, falling to the red-hot Penrith Panthers 30-10 at BlueBet Stadium in Penrith.
Both sides made several mistakes early on but the Raiders managed to get on top and scored first through Jack Wighton.
It was a trademark Wighton try, slicing through the defence from close range to give the Raiders a 6-0 lead.
Canberra looked to have doubled their lead soon after, with Jarrod Croker pouncing on a perfect Wighton grubber. However, the replay clearly showed Croker had not grounded the ball properly and the bunker reversed the decision of a try.
That moment was start of the momentum swinging the Panthers way, with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad soon ruled out of the rest of the game with concussion after a high shot from Viliame Kikau.
The Raiders were forced to reshuffle their backline with Jordan Rapana shifting to fullback while Elliott Whitehead moved to centre and Croker to the wing.
A controversial penalty against Hudson Young for shoving Kikau gave the Panthers the ball in good field position and they took full advantage.
Targeting Canberra’s left side of Whitehead and Croker, the Panthers made them look slow as Stephen Crichton got a lovely ball away for Charlie Staines to score in the corner.
Matt Burton scored next for Penrith before a brilliant individual try from Jarome Luai gave the Panthers an 18-6 lead at the break.
The Raiders started to threaten the Panthers early in the second half and after a line break from Young, Canberra shifted the ball left for Croker to score in the corner. He missed his own conversion for the score to remain 18-10.
The Panthers regrouped however and a second try to Staines took the lead out to 14 before an intercept try to Nathan Cleary made it 30-10.
While the Raiders reshuffle after Nicoll-Klokstad’s departure certainly hurt their chances, coach Ricky Stuart said his side were simply outplayed.
“Very early it was a tough, physical contest, it loosened up a little bit in the second half but we were outplayed by a far better footy team,” Stuart said.
“I thought the first 25 minutes we sort of gained some ascendency but then a bit of the flow and a bit of the momentum went against us in the last 15 minutes (of the first half).
“I think they scored a couple of tries and knocked the wind out of our sails.”
“There’s lot’s of little things you can look at, you’ve just got to toughen up and face the facts, we were beaten by a better football team.”
The Raiders have another tough assignment next week when they take on the Parramatta Eels at GIO Stadium Canberra on Saturday 17 April at 7.35pm.