The Panthers NSW Cup side wilted in the Canberra heat to suffer a 26-24 defeat to Mounties at GIO Stadium on Saturday.
Despite going to the break level on the scoreboard, the Panthers fell away in the second half as the 34-degree temperature took its toll.
Panthers coach Steve Georgallis welcomed experienced backrower Elijah Taylor into his starting side, with Ben Garcia dropping back to the bench and Tupou Sopoaga out of the squad.
The Panthers opened their account in the 10th minute after a Te Maire Martin bomb was spilled by the Mounties defence, allowing centre Maliko Filino to dive on the loose ball and score. Zach Dockar-Clay missed the conversion from the sideline but Penrith led 4-0.
An error from the Panthers coming out from their own end gave Mounties an opportunity to hit straight back – and they did. In the 15th minute a strong run and offload from Jarrad Kennedy sent fullback Zach Santo over for the try. Halfback Harry Siejka was wayward with his conversion attempt, leaving the score locked up at 4-4.
The favour was returned as Mounties dropped the pill in their next set and the Panthers pounced. Some slick hands to the right edge saw centre Andrew Heffernan slice through and score a 17th-minute try. Dockar-Clay’s conversion attempt was again waved away and it remained 8-4.
Another error and the Panthers were back on the attack. Martin showed some of his fancy footwork close to the line to bamboozle the defence and crash over beside the uprights. Corey Harawira-Naera took over kicking duties and duly converted for a 14-4 lead in the 23rd minute.
Only two minutes later Mounties hit back as Brenko Lee proved too big and too strong for Filino to handle close to the tryline. Siejka’s conversion missed to leave the score 14-8.
Mounties would have the final say of the opening stanza as Siejka made an incisive break and offloaded for Santo to score. The conversion locked up the score at 14-14.
HALFTIME – 14-14
After back-to-back penalties piggybacked the Panthers downfield following the resumption of play, Martin again stepped his way through some questionable Mounties defence to score in the 45th minute. Harawira-Naera’s conversion attempt slammed into the upright and was waved away but the scoreboard read 18-14.
For several minutes the Panthers held out against a period of sustained attack from Mounties, showing steel in defence despite the energy-sapping temperatures. Just when it looked like their line would crack, Dockar-Clay was taken out off the ball and earned his side a relieving penalty.
However a penalty back the other way gave Mounties yet more attacking possession and this time they took advantage. Nice hands on the edge sent winger Kato Ottio over for a 60th minute try. The conversion, which went in off the post, put Mounties ahead 20-18.
In the 65th minute Mounties extended their lead as recent signing Joe Tapine ran a smart line and through a gap to score from close range. The conversion made the score 26-18.
The Panthers gave themselves a chance as Chris Smith busted through the defence and sprinted away for a try with four minutes left in the game. Dockar-Clay knocked the conversion over to make it 26-24.
However with one final set, the Panthers couldn’t find an opening and Mounties regained possession to hold on for victory.
FULLTIME – Mounties 26-24