The Penrith Panthers NYC side have extended their winning streak to nine matches after a heart-stopping finish to hold on for a 30-26 win over the Canterbury Bulldogs.
The young Panthers led by 20 points with 10 minutes to go but four quick-fire tries from the Bulldogs almost saw them snatch the win from nowhere.
Prop Stanton Albert was a late withdrawal for the Panthers, with Oliver Clark moving into the starting side and 18th man Corey Waddell onto the bench.
The Panthers had an early injury concern as centre Jack Nelson left the field for treatment after only four minutes. Waddell replaced him at centre and bagged himself a try soon after.
Playmaker Dylan Edwards put in a deft cross-field kick to the wing of Fuimanu Enese, who caught the ball and delivered it to the makeshift centre to dive over from close range. Edwards converted for a 6-0 lead.
The Bulldogs hit back soon after as the Panthers’ left-edge defence was caught short and, as the outside men rushed up, an accurate long ball found winger Reimis Smith for the try. Guy Hamilton missed the conversion attempt from wide out, leaving the score 6-4.
Cleared of concussion, Nelson returned to the field at the 18th minute mark as handling errors began to creep into Penrith’s game and cruel a number of promising attacks.
They were made to pay as the Dogs scored a freakish try on the back of a linebreak by Renouf To’omaga with Smith in support. A hopeful kick back on the inside somehow evaded the grasp of four Panthers defenders and Hamilton gathered the loose ball to stroll over. He converted his own try and the home side led 10-6.
Skipper Brent Naden thought he had scored after 29 minutes as he hit a short ball at pace, rolled over, reached out and planted it over the line - but he was penalised for a double movement.
However there was no doubt about the legitimacy of the try three minutes later as hooker Soni Luke steamed out of dummy half with barely a finger laid on him. The successful conversion put the Panthers back in the lead, 12-10.
In the final minutes before halftime another pinpoint bomb from Edwards delivered points for the Panthers. Fullback Naden had his try this time – soaring above the pack to expertly claim the ball and plant it between the posts.
HALFTIME – Panthers 18-10
After some early jitters to open the second half, the powerful Cowan Epere ran straight through some soft Dogs defence to extend the lead by another converted try.
In the 55th minute Naden made a break up the middle and with only the fullback to beat, he chipped over the top and regathered, only to knock on within a metre of the tryline.
But once again, he didn’t have to wait too long for some joy.
An incisive break by Luke in the 68th minute saw him feed Naden on the inside to cruise over for his second try of the night, before sparking a melee with his post-try taunt. The referee gave the fullback a stern warning before the conversion was slotted for a 30-10 lead.
The match finished 12-on-12 as the referee the referee sinbinned Penrith’s Moses Leota and the Bulldogs’ Jake Kamire after another heated scuffle.
But the clash clearly fired up the Dogs, who immediately exploited the extra space with a quick-fire double to winger Marcelo Montoya, and tries to Reubenn Rennie and Harry Pondekas.
However Hamilton’s multiple missed conversions proved costly and the Panthers held on, just, to remain atop the competition table.
FULLTIME – Panthers 30-26