Penrith’s 26-6 triumph against Canberra has been overshadowed by the ongoing feud between the rival clubs, with Raiders coach Ricky Stuart labelling Panther half Jaeman Salmon a “weak-gutted dog”.
In Saturday’s other matches, Cronulla defeated St George Illawarra 24-18, while South Sydney beat the Warriors 48-10.
Stuart’s comments followed a controversial second-half incident where Salmon appeared to kick Raiders hooker Tom Starling in the groin and the face while being tackled, one of a number of reports from another fiery clash at Canberra Stadium.
Panthers forward James Fisher-Harris was sin-binned for a high-shot on Canberra’s Ryan Sutton that ended his night with a failed HIA, while Raiders winger Nick Cotric served 10 minutes in the bin for a similar hit on Dylan Edwards.
But Stuart had his sights set on Salmon, telling media he did not think the contact was accidental.
“I’ve had history with that kid (Salmon), I know that kid very well,” Stuart told reporters.
“He was a weak-gutted dog as a kid, and he hasn’t changed now, he’s a weak-gutted dog person now.
“Fisher-Harris … they’re accidents and in this collision game, I understand it.
“Where Salmon kicked Tommy, it ain’t on.”
Those comments were put to a bemused Penrith coach Ivan Cleary, who said he did not believe Salmon would have deliberately tried to kick Starling.
“I don’t think I need to respond to those comments,” Cleary said.
“I know what Jaeman is like, he’s valuable in our club and we love him and that’s all that matters to us.”
But the loss also came with a hefty price for the Raiders, losing star prop Joe Tapine, who did not return in the second half following a first-half rib injury.
His side badly missed him, conceding 26 straight points after Josh Papalii had scored the match’s opening try.
The club had no update on the severity of Tapine’s injury immediately following the match.
Penrith, playing without their star halves pairing of Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai along with second rower Villiame Kikau, survived an injury scare of their own with fullback Edwards, playing his 100th NRL game, pushing through pain to put in a clinical display.
Edwards, who had earlier looked ginger after being drilled by Jordan Rapana, responded perfectly with a try on 54 minutes, breaking Canberra’s spirit and capping his 155m, six-tackle bust display.
And he got plenty of help, particularly through back-up playmaker Sean O’Sullivan, covering Cleary in immaculate fashion with a stunning three-try assists and some kicking excellence.
“Seany’s had a great year for us, he’s been exactly what we needed,” Cleary said.
“It’s been good for him and good for us; it’s sort of catapulted his career, when Nathan’s been out he’s been able to do the job.
“The boys have got confidence in him and we’re gonna keep backing him to step up.”
Five-eighth Salmon scored a crafty try in the second half to complete the rout, while centre Stephen Crichton had earlier marked his return from his sickening ear injury to cross.
The result is a crushing blow to the Raiders’ finals hopes because they now sit a game back from the eight-placed Sydney Roosters, although all four of their remaining matches are against bottom-eight teams.
“I’m not walking away from that downhearted, because there was so much effort the boys put in,” Stuart said.
“We’re in survival mode and that’s how we’re going to play and we’re not going to let that result tonight stem the way we’ve been preparing and getting around each other.”
Sharks hold off Dragons
Cronulla has all but ended the finals hopes of rivals St George Illawarra with a tense 24-18 win at Shark Park.
St George Illawarra trailed 18-6 at the break but desperate to avoid a fourth straight year without finals, they capitalised on the sin-binning of Blayke Brailey and some error-prone Sharks attack to wage a second-half comeback.
But the inclusion of five-eighth Braydon Trindall and a late try to captain Wade Graham proved enough to seal the result for the Sharks, who are now daring to dream of their first top-two finish this century.
The Dragons are two wins adrift of the top eight with four rounds of the regular season to play.
And while they remain a mathematical chance of playing in September, their poor points differential makes their task an almost impossible one as they stare down their longest finals drought.
Melbourne Storm-bound Tariq Sims was sin-binned for making forceful shoulder contact with Connor Tracey’s head early in the first half and is certain to face scrutiny from the match review committee.
A ban will mean he could have easily played his last game for the Dragons.
Tracey appeared to have been knocked out before he hit the ground and left the field on a stretcher.
The Sharks could not make the most of the extra-man advantage when Sims was sin-binned but Trindall took matters into his own hands once the full complement was restored.
Called in to replace Matt Moylan (quad injury) on game day, Trindall first sliced through the left edge with a slick individual effort and then provided for Teig Wilton to stretch the margin to two tries.
Brailey’s sin-binning for repeated ruck infringements was the impetus for the Dragons’ surge, which began with a Tautau Moga try out wide.
Even when Brailey returned, the Sharks were rattled and risked surrendering their lead after Mathew Feagai crossed on the opposite edge.
Graham was the beneficiary of a long-range try that extended the Sharks’ lead and the result was sealed when Dragons fullback Moses Mbye knocked on close to the Sharks’ line in the dying seconds, ending the visitors’ last shot at bridging the gap.
Kade Dykes became the only third-generation player in Sharks history when he made his debut at fullback in place of injured strike weapon Will Kennedy.
Rabbitohs breeze past Warriors
South Sydney’s top-four ambitions remain intact following a ruthless 48-10 victory over the Warriors.
The Rabbitohs made easy work of a hapless Warriors outfit at Sunshine Coast Stadium, effectively having the contest put to bed when they scored six tries to one in the first half.
Adding two more to the Rabbitohs’ tally in the second stanza, star fullback Latrell Mitchell was given an early rest with 18 minutes to play after a perfect game off the tee.
Mitchell kicked all eight conversions, adding two tries and two try assists to go with two line assists and two linebreaks.
Perhaps the pick of his contributions was the sliced cut-out pass that found Izaac Thompson on debut to score his first NRL try and the Rabbitohs’ seventh of the afternoon.
Skipper Cameron Murray was one of nine Rabbitohs’ players to run for over 100 metres and had three try assists in the first 16 minutes before putting Lachlan Ilias over in the third minute.
He also linked up with hooker Damien Cook off a midfield linebreak to set up the hooker for the Rabbitohs’ second.
A deft offload to Tevita Tatola gave the Rabbitohs their third, before Murray put a strong shot on Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 25 metres from the Warriors’ line to win back possession.
It led to Ilias setting up Keaon Koloamatangi as Souths piled on 24 points in the first 21 minutes of the match.
Edward Kosi hit back for the away side in their first and only real opportunity of the opening half, but Jai Arrow then found an offload through three tacklers for Mitchell to crash over.
Mitchell then put Alex Johnston in for his 23rd try of the season as the Rabbitohs enjoyed a 36-6 advantage at the break.
It marked the fifth straight match South Sydney had scored 30 points or more against the Warriors.
The Rabbitohs’ dominance continued in the second half with the only blight coming through Shaun Johnson’s try in the 50th minute in a rare attacking opportunity inside South Sydney’s 20-metre line.
Victory over the Warriors saw the Rabbitohs leap-frog the Roosters and Broncos to move to sixth on the ladder, their dominant win also their biggest of 2022.
But the run into the finals is tough for last season’s grand finalists.
Four matches against top eight sides remain for the Rabbitohs, who face Parramatta, competition leaders Penrith, North Queensland and the Roosters to round out the regular season.