The South Sydney Rabbitohs have fought a tough contest against the Penrith Panthers at the Metricon High Performance Centre in Redfern Oval at the John Sutton Testimonial Match.
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Wearing their brand-new home jersey for the 2019 season, the Red and Greens had a number of players making their Redfern Oval debut, including Cody Walker, Dane Gagai and Damien Cook, with others making their unofficial debut with the Club such as Corey Allan and Cory Denniss.
As the match opened up, so did the heavens, with a downpour of rain adding to a nervous start to the match for the home side.
The Panthers showed determination early on, charging down a Dean Hawkins kick then forcing a drop out within the first few minutes of the match. The resulting pressure saw their hooker Sione Katoa diving from dummy-half to open the scoring, with James Maloney converting the try to give the Panthers the lead after 6 minutes.
Young fullback Corey Allan turned the momentum by showing great awareness to prevent a James Maloney 40/20 attempt, before an incorrect play the ball penalty by the Panthers gave the Rabbitohs prime territory to strike.
A clever Dean Hawkins grubber forced a line-drop out, but the ball was lost from front-rower Junior Tatola on the ensuing set.
The Panthers took advantage with the added possession, successfully contesting a last-tackle bomb as five-eighth Jarome Luai threw the ball to an unmarked Reagan Campbell-Gillard to score, with Maloney converting the try.
Two penalties in a row for Penrith saw them nearly go over again, only for young winger Mawene Hiroti to recover the ball from a Panthers' backline shift. With a Waqa Blake error giving further possession to the men in Cardinal and Myrtle, the first quarter ended with two opportunities gone begging with Mark Nicholls being held up and Campbell Graham deemed to have dropped a Hawkins grubber over the line.
A trademark Sam Burgess hit forced an error on resumption, with the likes of Cook, Walker, Gagai, Thomas Burgess and Alex Johnston on the field to add some impact.
There was plenty of feeling between the two sides, particularly between the outside backs with Allan and Blake forging themselves in a running battle.
All of a sudden, the first try of the night for the Rabbitohs then came from the most unlikely situation.
John Sutton found himself with the ball on last tackle from a hospital pass, with the man of the moment spiralling a last-tackle bomb, which was knocked on by the Panthers and toed ahead by Campbell Graham for his winger Jacob Gagan, who pounced on the ball just before the dead ball line to score a memorable try.
Gagan then bagged his double with just seconds left on the clock, with great lead up work by Johnston, Cook and Walker to keep the ball alive and open space on the edges to get the winger his second of the night, and bring the Red and Greens back into the contest at half-time.
It was far from the most ideal start for the second half for both teams as they exchanged errors in their first sets of the match.
Despite plenty of enthusiasm, errors continued to cruel the match from the younger contingent of both sides on the field.
The Panthers looked to be mounting possession and pressure, but despite forcing two drop-outs from the Red and Greens, it was all alleviated as they lost the ball soon after.
The mountain men then seemed to take advantage of a mountain of possession, with handy offloading lending Tyrone May a try in the dying stages of the third quarter. Jed Cartwright added the extras to extend the lead.
It was an adventurous final quarter, with Dean Hawkins running on last tackle early on and slipping the ball to front-rower Tom Amone, only for the ball to be called forward in an exciting passage of play.
The Panthers earned another set of six with a Rabbitohs hand knocking down a pass, and after a knock-on in the air from Cory Denniss, the scores extended through bench forward Paea Pua putting the ball down a few sets later.
The Panthers struck again in the shadows of fulltime, but the Rabbitohs would not go down without a fight, particularly with youngsters Corey Allan, Dean Hawkins, Mawene Hiroti and Tom Amone continuing to challenge the Panthers in every facet of the match to give their side any advantage they could.
Despite the loss, the overall occasion of the match was a resounding success, with over 4000 patrons attending the match despite torrid weather.
Match Highlights: John Sutton Testimonial vs Panthers
The night concluded with speeches from Rabbitohs General Manager of Football Shane Richardson and John Sutton, who was presented with the match ball.
Penrith Panthers 28 (Sione Katoa, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Tyrone May, Paea Pua, Brent Naden tries; James Maloney 2, Jed Cartwright 2 goals)
South Sydney Rabbitohs 8 (Jacob Gagan 2 tries; goals)