Canberra Raiders vs Penrith Panthers: Five things we learned

The Panthers snatched a thrilling 23-22 win in the nation's capital against the Raiders, but what did we learn from their 10th win of 2018?

In what could best be described as a weird game, the Panthers withstood a Raiders side which went from the sublime to the ridiculous seemingly on a whim to chalk their 10th win of the season and ensure they would end the weekend as equal ladder leaders at worst.

Anthony Griffin’s side looked less than well-oiled themselves, with silly mistakes and a lack of discipline when without the ball making for a difficult evening while Ricky Stuart had the sort of night where he felt the need to kick a chair, so there’s that.

  1. 1 Nathan Cleary is clutch, very clutch

    With the scores locked at 22-all and time slowly ticking away, the Panthers were very obviously setting up for a field goal attempt.

    Despite the ease with which the intent of the play was read by the opposition defenders, those in the ground and those watching at home on television, you never once got the sense that Nathan Cleary would do anything but slot his attempt straight between the uprights and once again hand his side the advantage.

    Fresh from his State of Origin debut mid-week, Cleary backed up well for the Panthers despite being well below his best for certain passages throughout the middle of the contest.

    At the end of 80 minutes, the biggest difference between the two sides was composure and poise, two things young Cleary has in his locker.

    Barely fussed by the task at hand, Cleary's field goal was inch-perfect and ended up being the difference on the scoreboard at the end of a frustrating contest.

  2. 2 Raiders still struggle to close games out

    The Raiders have a problem. They can't close out close games.

    Friday night's 23-22 loss to the Panthers represented the fourth time this season where the Raiders led inside the final 10 minutes and failed to come away with a win.

    The simple fact that the Raiders are good enough to get themselves into winning positions deep into games and then somehow find new and exciting ways to blow the lead must drive the Raiders faithful insane and has to start being part of the wider discussion about head coach Ricky Stuart and his tenure at the club.

    After such a wonderful run in 2016, expectations have been high down Canberra way and they've summarily failed to get even close to living up to those lofty heights.

    Stuart looks a man bereft of ideas and struggling to keep his squad together.

  3. 3 Battered and bruised

    Both sides were forced to overcome the loss of players during a bruising and physical contest in Canberra.

    The Raiders lost Joey Leilua to a failed Head Injury Assessment (HIA) and the bullocking centre looked very much worse for wear after trying to impede the forward momentum of the insatiable Reagan Campbell-Gillard.

    While Leilua will be monitored for a return next week when the Raiders travel to Campbelltown, his flank partner Jordan Rapana might be set for a more extended stay on the sideline.

    Rapana went down deep in the Raiders in-goal area clutching his hamstring late in the contest and seemed to say immediately that he'd "done a hammy."

    The injury ended a topsy-turvy night for Rapana who dropped the ball constantly but did score a try and kick a surprise 40/20.

    The Panthers lost big Bill Kikau to a reported MCL injury which could also sideline the big man for a number of weeks.

  4. 4 Band of 'backing up' brothers

    On the same night where all four of South Sydney's State of Origin stars failed to back up and play club footy, the Panthers were able to call on James Maloney, Nathan Cleary, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Tyrone Peachey.

    There has been plenty of talk about the spirit and mateship in this group of Panthers from way out west and the fact that their four representative superstars were able to back up and get the job done speaks volumes for the positivity and drive within the group.

    Maloney took to the field with a hell of a shiner on his left eye while Nathan Cleary barely looked like he'd done anything more than get out of bed all week. The kid never looks flustered or fazed, he's a freak!

    Tyrone Peachey didn't get a lot of time on the field midweek, but he was heavily involved last night while big prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard continued his charge to being the very best front rower in the game with another big night.

    Also backing up, Josh Papalii was easily the best on-field for the Raiders.

  5. 5 It all felt a little inevitable

    There's a big problem in Canberra and I'm not sure how to fix it.

    Canberra have plenty of talent in their side and while I'd question the week-to-week viability of a halves pairing consisting of Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer, they showed last night that they can match it with the best sides in the league for long stretches of play.

    Then they lose.

    That seems to be the way at the moment. The Raiders find a way to get right into a tight contest, then they find a way to avoid closing it out and drop another vital two competition points.

    I don't know if moving on from Ricky Stuart is the answer or a significant roster shakeup would do the trick, but Canberra fans must be really starting to ask questions now.

    What did you take out of Penrith's 23-22 win over the Canberra Raiders at GIO Stadium? Let us know in the comments below.

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