Penrith had an uphill task at home to Kendal as 10 of the 23 players who have represented them in the first three games of the season were unavailable.
Head coach David Preston had to shuffle his pack and opted to start two of the promising youngsters who have been attending senior training in the back row.
Teenagers Tom Knowles and Josh Winder fully vindicated the Penrith coaching team by making up with what they lacked in experience with bravery, endeavour and nonstop running and tackling throughout the afternoon.
This game started, as many have between these two sides, with a large, experienced Kendal pack doing their best to bully the game and their tactics paid-off early.
After four minutes they scored a try by Liam Hayton which was converted by Chris Park. The score had come through the pack as they applied pressure following a scrum in the home 22.
Mike Fearon then got his side on the scoreboard with a long-distance penalty when Kendal were penalised for hanging onto the ball after being tackled.
Fearon then provided the groundwork to put his team ahead, making a clean break from the visitors’ ten metre line and then unselfishly drawing the full back and offloading to young Knowles on the 22 who sprinted in under the posts.
The conversion pulled the lead out to three points but that was soon nullified when the home side failed to secure the restart and were penalised on their 22 and a Park penalty levelled the scores.
The Kendal pack were dominating all aspects of the game except the set scrum where the Penrith eight just about had the better of them but it was no surprise when the visitors scored a second try.
They secured possession from a scrum deep in the Penrith 22 and when the ball was released to the backs a clean break in the centre after some weak tackling resulted in a try for Ben Dixon, converted by Park.
As halftime approached Penrith trailed by just seven points and if they could hang on they would fancy their chances in the second half against an older, much bigger side, but that didn’t happen.
The visitors scored converted tries either side of half time through Danny Barker and Steve Nelson.
The first came when Kendal created a two-man overlap for Barker to exploit and the second from a clever behind-the-back pass from James Gough. Park converted both.
At 31-10 with 38 minutes to play the home side were looking down the barrel at a very long second half and a heavy defeat but then the game changed, helped initially by a sin-binning for Barker.
Penrith threw caution to the wind and opened the game up at every opportunity and the visitors either subconsciously relaxed after scoring their bonus point try or tired.
Fearon was able to release the runners outside him to some effect and centres Arron Pamphilon and Jay Rossi showed their paces.
They got themselves back into the game when JJ Key went blind from a scrum just into the visitor’s half. The ball was run in again by Craig Price before coming left where Fearon found Jamie McNaughton who had the time and room to pick his way and use his pace to find the line for a converted try.
Penrith hopes were raised just five minutes later when Key broke from a scrum on his own line and beat three men to take play to half-way.
When the ball came to Fearon he had the vision to see the visitors’ defence at sixes and sevens and chipped the ball in behind them on the left for McNaughton to run on to and gather and run in unopposed. The conversion would have pulled Penrith back to within a score but it came back off the post.
Kendal then gave themselves a little breathing space with a Park penalty to pull the lead out to 12 points but as the game went into the final five minutes the home side struck again from their own 22.
A long flat Fearon miss pass found Rossi who sped clear of the first line of defence, as the cover got to him he found Pamphilon inside him who also being quickly closed down. He chipped the ball to the left towards the corner and foot race to the perfectly weighted kick was won by Knowles who got a touch to it in the corner.
That fourth try and five points earned Penrith two bonus points (a 4 try bp and a losing bp) which their efforts more than deserved, it also shows the importance of the bonus points as they moved a place higher in the table whilst losing as third placed Manchester got nothing out of their game with league leaders Stockport and Penrith leapfrogged them.
Kendal’s forwards had earned their victory but the Winters Park men were delighted with the performance of their youngsters and the grit shown at 31-10 down when heads could have easily have gone down. To come back and win those two points was a testament to their spirit.
For Kendal, a fourth straight win keeps them on course, but discipline will be a problem for the coaches if it is not improved. There was too much back chat, and to what was undoubtedly the best referee the Mint Bridge side has encountered so far.