Penrith Panthers vs New Zealand Warriors: Five things we learned

With two sides capable of the very best and the very worst, there were huge question marks over how the first elimination final would pan out at the former Olympic venue, but for the 17,000+ fans on hand, the Panthers turned it on and put a disappointing start behind them to notch an emphatic win over the Warriors.

The Kiwi side got the better of the start after falling behind to an early penalty goal as hooker Isaac Luke and try-scoring machine David Fusitu'a crossed the stripe, but from there it was all one-way traffic.

Penrith hit back through Tyrone Peachey who would go on to score a second try as Nathan Cleary and the unstoppable James Maloney stood tall and dictated terms. Here are five things we learned along the way.

1. James Maloney is one tough SOB

Pardon my French, but if there's a tougher playmaker in the game right now, I'd like to hear it. There barely seems a week goes by without Maloney fronting up to the post-match press conference without a black eye, a cut on his face, a limp or a bung shoulder but his efforts against New Zealand would have made the tough guys of old proud.

Maloney was nearly torn in half by a suspect bone-rattler from Isaac Luke and looked to be out for the count but not only did he get up, he managed to continue to dictate play and control Penrith's attack with a good running game and a pin-point kicking display.

The veteran playmaker also copped a late hit to his legs after putting in a kick early in the game, an incident which sparked a minor flare up given the possibility of serious injury.

Make no mistake about it, James Maloney is as tough as they come, he's built in the mould of the man running the water for Penrith these days, Peter Wallace.

2. That's the end of that chapter

As I wrote earlier today, the New Zealand Warriors have had a historically bad record travelling away from home, something which they had curbed for much of 2018 to post one of the best away records in the competition, but all that travel and being away from their boisterous spiritual home of Mt Smart Stadium appears to have caught up with them as they fell limply out of the finals series on Saturday evening.

It was a sad way for the 2018 season to come to a close for the Warriors, especially given they held a 12-2 advantage early in the game, but the signs are there that Stephen Kearney may be a better coach than many gave him credit for and the Auckland-based club will be back bigger and better in 2019.

3. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is so important to the Warriors

Yeah, we're not exactly learning this one tonight, but the way his side fell apart after he went off with injury highlighted once more just how important captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is to the New Zealand Warriors.

The star fullback has led the charge from the back in 2018, supplying some of the best kick returns in the game and generally providing a safe outlet when under siege, but with him sat on the sideline with a medial ligament strain, things turned ugly quickly for the Warriors who would end up conceding 25 unanswered points in a devastating loss.

RTS left the field in the 27th minute and while the Panther's comeback had started well before he went off, his departure took away any real chance the Warriors had of getting the momentum back and working their way back into the contest.

4. Big Billy Kikau had a field day

Oh boy! When big Billy Kikau turns it on, he really turns it on.

He may not have scored a try on Saturday night, but Bill Kikau was heavily involved for the Panthers, making heavy inroads down the Warrior's right-hand edge defence at will.

Simply put, the Warriors had absolutely no answers on how to contain the huge Fijian international and he quickly became the perfect go-to outlet for both James Maloney and Nathan Cleary each time they drifted wide and needed a straight runner to cut back across and hit the defensive line hard.

Overall, he probably deserved a four-pointer for his efforts, but Kikau will be happy with his contribution, as will his coach Cameron Ciraldo and teammates.

If Kikau can bottle that and reproduce on a regular basis, there's no telling just how good he can be moving forward.

5. Farewell to a true Warriors

With all the excitement of sudden-death football, it's often easy to forget that a season ends for one club and, in the case of someone like Simon Mannering, a glittering career comes to a close.

It was not the fairytale ending he would have hoped for, especially given with one or two better results through the season it could easily have been in front of his adoring fans at Mt Smart Stadium, but it's worth taking a moment to reflect on just how wonderful Simon Mannering has been and how sizeable his contribution to the game of rugby league.

Mannering has always played the game in the right spirit. Tough but fair, I sincerely hope he's not lost to the game moving forward because he's got plenty to offer the next generation both on and off the field.

Thanks Simon!

What did you learn from Penrith's 27-12 win over the New Zealand Warriors? Let us know in the comments below.

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