Coach shredded for ‘awful’ call

Penrith wrecking ball Viliame Kikau has returned to the field in the second half after being forced off early with a suspected shoulder injury in his team’s upset win over the Roosters.

The dangerous forward barely saw any action in the first half after coach Ivan Cleary dropped a selection surprise by starting his team’s best forward on the bench on Saturday night.

The decision to rest Kikau for around the first 20 minutes of the game caught NRL commentators by surprise after the second-rower emerged as the Panthers’ most devastating weapon in attack last season.

NRL legend Willie Mason on Twitter described Cleary’s selection gamble as an “awful” decision.

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“Awful coaching from Cleary leaving the most devastating left edge back rower on the bench for the first 20! Why??!!!,” Mason posted on Saturday night during the game at Panthers Stadium.

The Panthers were 12-0 down before Kikau even walked onto the field.

However, Cleary got the last laugh as the Panthers came from behind to win 20-14.

Kikau didn’t last long before he suffered a shoulder injury that saw him forced from the field with his arm in a sling.

Kikau walked off the field with a grimace on his face.

Viliame Kikau off with R shoulder injury. Thankfully more burner/stinger/cuff contusion, causes temporary weakness/pain but should return 2nd half. Worst case in these situations: AC joint injury/fracture (scapula/collarbone), but appears to have avoided this #NRLPanthersRoosters

Fox League sideline commentator Corey Parker reported during the match that the star forward “heard a crack” in his shoulder before walking from the field behind play.

Kikau said after the game: “I didn’t think I was going to come back on actually”.

Nathan Cleary told Fox League after the game the team was always expecting Kikau to start on the bench after a few injuries in pre-season left the forward “a bit underdone”.

He was assessed in the team’s sheds, but was soon spotted warming up again after his shoulder had ben treated and wrapped in strapping.

Viliame Kikau of the Panthers walks off with a numb shoulder.Source:Getty Images

He returned in the 54th minute and went on to score Penrith’s go-ahead try that put the home team up 20-14 in the 71st minute.

Kikau burst onto a short ball near the try line and barged over a tired right edge Roosters defence.

And the @PenrithPanthers have hit the lead! #NRLPanthersRoosters 20-14 with nine minutes to go. #TelstraPremiership

Meanwhile, Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett has escaped any second-guessing from his critics despite hooking superstar fullback Latrell Mitchell early in the second half of his team’s win over the Sharks at ANZ Stadium.

Souths held off a fast-finishing Cronulla to claim a 22-18 win to start their NRL season at ANZ Stadium.

In a thrilling finish on Saturday night, the Sharks were denied a try in the second-last minute by a forward pass which would have completed a stunning comeback.

Captain Wade Graham attempted to challenge the call after Josh Morris had crossed, but was correctly told by referee Ben Cummins he was unable to have a forward pass reviewed.

Replays showed the call was the correct one, with the ball from Connor Tracey to Morris going marginally forward.

The signs were good for the Rabbitohs, even as Latrell Mitchell also played 56 minutes at fullback and tallied 50 metres in four runs.

However, he was hooked early in the second half for Alex Johnston.

“It was the plan,” Bennett said of giving Mitchell a rest.

“I had Alex there; I know I had to get Alex some game time. I’m not going to put Latrell under the pressure that he’s got to play 80 minutes right now.

“I’m not interested in making him play 80 minutes. It’s a whole different position for him, I want him to get used to that and want him to play without mistakes, he did that with the exception of one mistake. I was pretty happy with his performance

“It’s a different position; they do more running than anyone else. Fitness is an issue but he’s fit enough. But I just wanted him to get through today.”

— with AAP

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