The Panthers have opened their season with a disappointing 30-22 loss to Canberra Raiders at GIO Stadium on Saturday.
The score was level at halftime but ill-discipline cost the Panthers dearly in the second half as fatigue set in and eventually got the better of them.
Canberra coach Ricky Stuart sprung a surprise with Sam Williams omitted from his squad and Blake Austin promoted to the starting side. Anthony Griffin made a late change of his own with young Kiwi backrower James Fisher-Harris named on the Panthers bench at the expense of Elijah Taylor.
A penalty awarded right under the posts in the 3rd minute gifted the Panthers the opening points of their 2016 season. Jamie Soward duly knocked it over for a 2-0 lead.
In the 10th minute the Raiders hit the front as the Panthers failed to wrap up the ball in a tackle close to the line. The subsequent offload and quick hands on the left edge saw winger Edrick Lee dive over in the corner. Jarrod Croker slotted the sideline conversion for a 6-2 lead.
Two minutes later an error from Will Smith attempting to play the ball handed Canberra another golden attacking opportunity. On this occasion the Panthers defence held firm.
At the other end of the field, the Panthers were giving up valuable possession of their own as James Segeyaro unsuccessfully looked for the miracle pass and Reagan Campbell-Gillard failed to play the ball correctly.
It was all too easy for Canberra’s Austin though as he drove through a jagged defensive line to score an 18th-minute try from close range. Croker’s conversion hit the upright and went over to make the score 12-2.
Smith broke through the line in the 21st minute and from the next set, the Panthers finally got the try they were after. On the last tackle Trent Merrin took a face ball from Segeyaro and celebrated his Panthers debut with a four-pointer beside the posts. Soward converted to make the score 12-8.
Offloads were again the name of the game for the Raiders as Aidan Sezer took a ball from Croker and touched down for a try in the 27th minute. Croker’s conversion attempt was unsuccessful to leave the scoreboard at 16-8.
The referee bunker sent back a ‘no try’ decision in the 29th minute after Raiders centre Joey Leilua almost managed to ground the ball in the corner despite the close attention of four Panthers defenders.
In the 37th minute Peta Hiku was on the end of some slick hands on the left edge, and joined Merrin in celebrating his Panthers debut with a try. The opening was sparked by a typical cross-field burst and offload from Bryce Cartwright. Soward kicked the conversion to reduce Canberra’s lead to two points.
As the halftime siren sounded, the Panthers earned a penalty 20 metres out and close to the left touchline. Soward was on target with the boot to lock the scores up at the break.
HALFTIME – 16-16
The Panthers started the second half on the front foot thanks to back-to-back penalties and a deft chip from Wallace then forced a Raiders dropout. The booming kick sent the Panthers scrambling back into their own half but they still managed to find a try at the end of their set. Running the ball on the last play, Soward drew defenders and offloaded to Peachey, who in turn found Josh Mansour in space. The 45th-minute try was converted for a 22-16 lead.
The Panthers were forced to defend consecutive sets on their own line as Canberra ramped up the pressure, despite the departure of Austin from the game with a knee injury. However they couldn’t hold on in the 55th minute as Sezer burrowed through for his second try of the game. Croker converted to lock the scores up again.
James Segeyaro was the next casualty to leave the field, with early reports suggesting the Panthers hooker may have suffered a broken arm.
A scuffle in the 65th minute ended with no penalty as it couldn’t be determined who was the most culpable of all the instigators.
The Panthers really were becoming their own worst enemy in defence as the penalty count began to grow against them. With 12 minutes to play one such penalty gave Croker a shot from 30 metres out. He put it between the posts to give the Raiders a 24-22 lead.
Mansour spilled the ball cold coming out of trouble in the 70th minute and Soward was forced to give away another penalty as the defence desperately re-set. Croker happily accepted the gift two points to make it 26-22 with eight minutes left to play.
The Panthers had an attacking set, and the chance to level the scores, with four minutes left on the clock but spilled the pill looking for the killer pass.
Canberra spilled a bomb and gave the Panthers one final attacking opportunity however the visitors lost the ball on the first play. Raiders went back on the attack and the result was sealed with a Shaun Fensom try in the final seconds.
FULLTIME – Canberra 30-22