The premiership hopes of the Penrith Panthers NSW Cup side have been dealt a blow with a 22-20 loss to Wyong Roos at Pepper Stadium on Saturday.
Just as it had been when the two sides met a fortnight ago, Wyong pulled out the winning play in the final minutes, just when the Panthers thought they had the game won.
The result puts their position at the top of the NSW Cup table under threat, with New Zealand Warriors, and now the Roos, only a single win in arrears.
In the only major change to the side coach Garth Brennan named during the week, Geoff Daniela started in the centres with Maliko Filino dropping back to the bench
Penrith squandered their early attacking opportunities as Daniela was held up over the line, and winger Eddie Aiono lost possession as he flew over in the right corner.
They were made to pay when Wyong opened the scoring after ten minutes as Lagi Setu dived on a deft grubber from Mitch Williams. Tyler Cornish converted to give the Roos a 6-0 lead.
The Panthers made it look easy only three minutes later as halfback Will Smith dummied to Adrian Davis on his inside and strolled over from close range without a hand laid on him. He was unable to convert his own try and the Roos led 6-4.
Wyong extended their lead with 15 minutes left in the half. A couple of metres from the tryline, Setu was somehow able to squeeze the ball out in the tackle and it fell, with a touch of fortune, to the unmarked Willie Manu on his outside. The try was converted to make the score 12-4.
The next set was a disaster for the Panthers, with defenders falling off tackles, as the ball moved through Wyong hands until it finished with Abraham Papalii diving over in the left corner. Cornish slotted the sideline conversion for an 18-4 lead.
The Panthers hit back within two minutes as a simple short ball from Isaac John put Tupou Sopoaga into a yawning gap in the defensive line. This time Davis stepped up for the conversion attempt, but missed, to leave the score 18-8.
Sopoaga fancied himself for a second try as the clock ran down to halftime. On the back of a break from Aiono, the fleet-footed backrower took off down the short side and put in a cheeky chip kick. However he was bundled over the sideline by the defence and his kick ran dead.
HALFTIME: Wyong 18-8
The Panthers came out of the sheds with a point to prove and it wasn’t long until a shift to the left saw Malakai Watene-Zelezniak get on the outside of his man to cross out wide. Davis converted nicely to bridge the gap to four.
Promoted from the NYC side this week, young prop Moses Leota barely had a chance to make an impression on the game before leaving the field with a knee injury.
There was a huge call fall in Penrith’s favour as Setu dived on another Cornish grubber in the in-goal midway through the second half, only to be called offside by referee Jon Stone.
With six minutes left on the clock, the Panthers spread ball to the right edge and Chris Smith bumped off a would-be tackler to crash over. Smith nailed the conversion attempt and the Panthers hit the lead for the first time in the game, 20-18.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, their lead wasn’t a winning one. Wyong offloaded to the right, found space and winger Chris Centrone sprinted down the touchline to score in the corner. Despite the missed conversion, the Roos took the lead 22-20.
With only seconds left, the Panthers couldn’t regather their short kick-off, and they had succumbed to back-to-back losses to the team from Wyong.
FULLTIME – Wyong 22-20