Panthers star faces government ban
PANTHERS star Viliame Kikau will reportedly be forced to miss the club's Friday night top-eight showdown with the Warriors because he is banned from travelling by Australia's immigration department.
The hulking forward that attracted comparisons with superstar Sonny Bill Williams at the start of the 2018 season, will be forced to watch his teammates from his lounge room.
A Wide World of Sports report claims the 23-year-old Fijian's Australian residency application is yet to be rubber stamped.
He has reportedly been informed by the Australian Department of Immigration that his residency application will be torn up if he leaves Australia to play on Friday night - even if he returns on Saturday.
The Panthers are in communication with government officials but won't risk Kikau being locked out of the country just to select him to face the Warriors in a clash that is crucial to the Panthers' hopes of finishing in the top four.
The hammer blow for the Panthers comes after Kikau was on Sunday cleared to face the Warriors by the NRL match review committee.
Kikau, Tyrone May and Waqa Blake all avoided suspensions for taking swings during the Panthers' heated scuffle with Newcastle players during their shock loss at Panthers Stadium.
The Panthers trio, along with Newcastle's Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Danny Levi, were all given contrary conduct charges on Sunday.
However, the lesser nature of the charge - as opposed to striking, which was handed out for punches thrown in a fight between Manly and Melbourne earlier this year - only carries a $1500 monetary fine which can be reduced with an early guilty plea.
Of the five, Blake was the only player charged not to be sin-binned, while Kikau, May and Kenny-Dowall were each spotted throwing punches in the melee.
The loss was their first in four weeks but Penrith have been far from convincing in a two-month period that claimed the head of coach Anthony Griffin.
Their past three wins were all come-from-behind efforts against teams well outside the top-eight and with little to play for, while Penrith have also been beaten heavily by the Sydney Roosters, Brisbane and Cronulla in that period.
The Panthers are without five-eighth James Maloney for the run to the finals, while they coughed up 15 errors against the Knights.
Crucially - and while it is early days - their trajectory does not appear to have changed in the two weeks under interim coach Cameron Ciraldo, who has controlled their attack all season.
"If they play this kind of football they are out of the finals series immediately. They were terrible," rugby league legend Peter Sterling said on Nine's Sunday Footy Show.
"They weren't playing that well when Anthony got the bullet. There were some signs there but there has been no turnaround since." Sterling said the late brawl with the Knights was an indication of the team's frustrations.
"Out of this there are a couple of players who lose their way for Penrith. It's a bad sign for as to where they are mentally for this stage of the season," Sterling said.
"Their defence has been awful for weeks and weeks, and yesterday their ball control was non-existent. They played like strangers."