The Panthers have fallen just a few points short of claiming the inaugural NRL State Championship title, after going down 32-28 to Queensland side the Northern Pride at ANZ Stadium this afternoon.
A string is mistakes in the final 20 minutes cost us the game, with the Pride capitalising on every opportunity.
It was a big game for the Panthers boys who would farewell a handful of their players after the match. It was Captain Kevin Kingston’s final game ahead of his retirement from footy, while Tim Grant, Matt Robinson, Kevin and Wes Naiqama and Tom Humble were all leaving the club to continue their careers elsewhere.
Today’s game was a very evenly matched contest with both sides throwing everything they had at the other.
The Pride put us under some pressure early and after winning repeat sets in the 6th minute, they crossed for the first points of the game. After working their way up to their goal line, Shaun Nona put a brilliant grubber kick into the in-goal and it dribbled in perfectly for Blake Leary to run onto and put down. The conversion was waved away, so the Queenslanders took a 4-0 lead.
They gave us another scare in the next set when they dived at their line again, but Penrith managed to hold them up and it was play on.
But it wasn’t long before they scored their second try, and it was again off a Nona grubber kick which was chased down and grounded by Javid Bowen. The kick was off target again, so the score went to 8-0.
In the 17th minute the Panthers hit back with a try of their own, thanks to some brilliant footwork by Kevin Naiqama which kept the ball in play, even after an attempted tackle on the sideline from two Pride defenders. After dancing his way out of their arms, he offloaded to Luke Capewell on his inside, and he beat two Queensland players to the line to score! Wes Naiqama converted to put the Panthers on the board 8-6.
We backed that up 5 minutes later after a good set of six got us up to the 10m line where the ball was spread wide to Lani Latu, who spun out of a tackle and managed to get the ball to Eto Nabuli who was unmarked on the sideline, and he sprinted a few steps before diving over the line. Naiqama sent the ball straight through the uprights to put the Panthers in front 12-8.
The Pride got their next try with just under 10 minutes until the half time break when Nona stripped the ball from Kieran Moss in a one-on-one tackle and offloaded to Bowen, who had plenty of time to run up the sideline and around behind the posts. This time the kick was good, so Queensland took the lead once again 14-12.
But they didn’t hold onto it for long and with four minutes until the break, Penrith scored again thanks to a nice flick pass from Moss to Waqa Blake who had some space and decided to go himself, charging at the line and diving over just inside the corner post. The kick drifted to the left so the score went to 16-14.
Just as the half time siren sounded, the Pride were awarded a penalty and took the kick for two to even the score going into the break.
HALF TIME: 16-16
Penrith opened strongly this half and in the 44th minute we had our next try after Kierran Moseley burrowed his way under a pack of Pride defenders to get the ball over the line. Naiqama’s kick put the Panthers back out in front 22-16.
A perfectly timed offload from Waqa Blake gave us our next try when Tom Humble collected the ball from 40m out and took off down the field before being brought down about 10m out. But he managed to offload the ball to Moss, who took it the rest of the way! Naiqama’s kick added the extra two, to extend Penrith’s lead to 28-16 with 27 minutes remaining.
With just over 20 minutes on the clock, the Pride crossed for another four points when Semi Tadulala dived towards the line and just got the ball down before being taken over the sideline by Nabuli. The kick was waved away so the score went to 28-20.
A Penrith mistake handed them their next try in the next set after a dropped ball off a bomb bounced straight into the waiting arms of Bowen, who sprinted to the line to get his hat trick. The kick narrowed the score margin to two points, 28-26.
Another Panthers mistake handed the Queenslanders another six points, and the lead in the match with 8 minutes to go. After starting their set from 10m out, a couple of quick passes to the right saw Tyrone McCarthy dive over next to the posts, and the ensuing kick put the Pride ahead 32-28.
They then went on the defence for the remainder of the match and refused to let the Panthers get close enough to their line to score. Despite our best efforts, time ran out, and the Queenslanders snatched victory.
FULL TIME: 32-28 Pride