After a nail-biting 80 minutes of football, the Panthers NSW Cup side has posted a thrilling 35-28 win over the Bulldogs at Belmore Sportsground.

We dominated the first half and had a 10 point lead at the break, thanks to a hat trick from Kevin Naiqama and some brilliant foot work by Bryce Cartwright. Our second half was a little scrappy and there were plenty of mistakes, but we held our own and managed to come away with the win.

Here’s how the game played out.

With our second set of six we got the ball up to our 10m line and sent it from the right side, to Bryce Cartwright in the middle of the field, and he put a beautifully timed grubber kick into the in-goal. Kevin Naiqama and a Bulldogs defender chased the ball, and Naiqama got there first and dived on it before it went dead. Cartwright converted, giving the Panthers a 6-0 lead, four minutes into the game.

The home side came close to evening the score a few minutes later and did push the ball over the line, but Penrith defended hard and managed to keep it off the ground, so the ref ruled a no-try. In the next play, Ben Murdoch-Masila intercepted a Bulldogs ball and gave possession back to the Panthers, which led to our next try.

It began with Waqa Blake finding a whole in Canterbury’s defence and making a break for it down the field. He was tackled on the 30m and then sent the ball left, where it eventually made its way over to an unmarked Naiqama who sprinted to the line. Cartwright’s kick was on target again, and Penrith extended their lead to 12-0.

In the 15th minute, Naiqama got his hat trick thanks to some very quick thinking from Cartwright, who chased a chip kick from the halfway line and just got his fingers to the ball, before dropping it to his boot to put a grubber into some space. Naiqama chased it, slid in and picked it up on the 10m line before getting to his feet in one swift movement to run the ball over the line! Carty was a little off centre with his conversion, so the score went to 16-0.

For the next 10 minutes the Bulldogs stepped up their attack and in the 25th minute they managed to put their first points on the board. After being awarded a penalty on their 10m line, it only took them three tackles to create a hole and send Reni Maitua through some space and over the line. Their conversion was good, so the score went to 16-6.

They were in again soon after in a very similar play, this time on the other side of the park, where Lachlan Burr barged his way through our back line and fell over to score. The kick went straight through the uprights, narrowing the score to 16-12, with 6 minutes until the half time break.

But with 3 minutes remaining the Panthers hit back, this time through flying Fijian Eto Nabuli! We were awarded a penalty on our own 10m line and after a few attempts to drive the ball straight, we drew the Bulldogs defenders in and then sent the ball wide to Naiqama, who flicked a brilliant pass to Nabuli who was unmarked on the sideline, and he darted over the line to get the four points. Cartwright converted, sending Penrith into the halftime break with 22-12 lead.

HALF TIME: 22-12 Panthers

The Bulldogs came out of the sheds with a bit of renewed gusto and went out hard in attack. Penrith did well to hold them out, and ended up scoring the first points of the half.

In the 53rd minute, we had our next try when Bryce Cartwright put a chip kick over everyone’s heads on the 40m line and chased it down the field, waiting for the perfect moment to pluck it out of the air and take off towards the line, leaving a group of Doggies defenders completely stunned. He converted his own try, extending the Panthers lead to 28-12.

The home side hit back in the 59th minute after finding a hole in our defence and making a break 30 metres out from their line, before Corey Thompson was handed a beautiful ball on the sideline and dodged a Panthers player to plant the ball over the line. The kick went straight through the uprights, so the score went to 28-18.

But we made amends for that 5 minutes later when Ben Murdoch-Masila charged into a bunch of Bulldogs defenders on the 10m line and dragged them towards the line, before breaking free and diving over to score. Carty’s kick added the extra two, and the Panthers stretched the score to 34-18.

The game was turning into a try-a-minute affair, and it wasn’t long before Canterbury was over again. After putting pressure on the Panthers boys in repeat sets 10 metres out from their line, they barged their way over next to the posts. The kick was on target so the Doggies narrowed the score to 34-24, with less than 10 minutes remaining.

Their next try came with 6 minutes on the clock after a Panthers scrum went horribly wrong and the Bulldogs came up with the ball. They capitalised and sent the ball wide to their winger who had a bit of space to move, and he sprinted up the sideline and dived over, taking the corner post and a Panthers player with him. The conversion missed, but the home side was now just 6 points behind Penrith.

The last minutes of the match were fast paced and tense, but the Panthers kept their cool and played safe, and in the dying seconds of the game, Cartwright kicked a field goal just to make sure!

FULL TIME: 35-28 Panthers