South Sydney Rabbitohs' NRL finals hopes disintegrated yesterday as they were on the receiving end of a 54-18 thrashing at the hands of the Penrith Panthers. Michael Gordon, the Panthers full-back, scored a club record 30 points with a hat-trick of tries and nine goals as the Rabbitohs were put to the sword. The damage was done in the first half when the Panthers scored seven unanswered tries against a hapless South Sydney side who had desperately needed a win to rejuvenate their flagging hopes of taking part in the post-season play-offs.
John Lang, the Sydney coach, said of the setback: "They just blew us off the park ... it's hard for me to work out at this stage whether they were that good or we were that bad or both. "We just couldn't contain them. You could probably find 50 areas where we went wrong ... too much pace, too much power, too much ball movement, they just got us everywhere." Travis Burns and Sandor Earl both scored two tries for the Panthers as well.
Four tries from Cooper Vuna helped the Newcastle Knights keep their own finals ambitions intact as they cruised past the Brisbane Broncos 44-18. A delighted Rick Stone, the Knights coach, labelled the display the best his side had put on at home all season. "We played controlled footy and scored some terrific tries and it was great to produce in front of our home crowd who have been so patient and loyal, that was probably the best thing," he said.
In today's game, the Manly Sea Eagles take on the New Zealand Warriors, the Melbourne Storm face the Cronulla Sharks and the North Queensland Cowboys play the Canterbury Bulldogs. Meanwhile in the UK, Brian Noble, the Celtic Crusaders coach, believes his club's tilt at the play-offs ought to silence the critics who questioned their entry into the Super League and their subsequent relocation to Wrexham.
The former Great Britain coach is proud of his achievements at the Racecourse Ground, where his hastily-assembled side are favourites to grab the last top-eight spot 12 months on from finishing their inaugural top-flight season in Bridgend with the wooden spoon. Victory over St Helens in their penultimate fixture of the regular season in Wrexham tonight would take them four points clear of Castleford Tigers, who host Harlequins on Sunday before finishing their campaign at Saints.
"It's a great success story," said Noble, who succeeded Australian John Dixon at the Crusaders after his contract with Wigan Warriors was not renewed last September. "You've just got to look at the circumstances, where the club was and where it's come to and the difficult challenges presented to this group of people from day one. It's a magnificent achievement." * Agencies