The Panthers have had their hearts broken with a late converted try condemning them to a 14-12 loss to the Dragons at WIN Stadium.
Panthers coach Anthony Griffin opted to retain James Fisher- Harris on his bench, which saw Elijah Taylor play in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW match earlier in the day.
An early penalty gave the Panthers prime attacking possession but Bryce Cartwright copped the ire of the referee for attempting to offload from the ground.
In the 7th minute the Dragons turned defence into attack as Waqa Blake was stripped by Jason Nightingale, who then sprinted 65m to touch down. However the on-field decision of ‘try’ was overruled as a second tackler was deemed to have joined in just before the ball came loose.
Panthers prop Sam McKendry was caught offside in the 11th minute and the Dragons elected to take the two points. Gareth Widdop did the honours and the home side led 2-0.
In the 20th minute the Dragons looked likely to extend their lead as they rolled downfield with all the momentum. However a desperate diving tackle from McKendry somehow managed to dislodge the ball from Mitch Rein’s grasp.
The penalties began to mount against the Panthers as they grimly defended their line. Referee Ashley Klein had a keen eye for infringements and let the Panthers know in no uncertain terms. However for five consecutive sets, and as the penalty count hit double figures, Penrith scrambled and held on against all the odds.
Unfortunately as brave as they were in defence, they were far from clinical in attack. A golden attacking opportunity with halftime approaching finished with haphazard improvisation and Te Maire Martin being driven over the sideline.
Peta Hiku look destined to score a couple of minutes later but was chopped down with the tryline seemingly at his mercy. Cartwright opened up the last chance of the half but his offload was collected by a grateful Nightingale.
HALFTIME – Dragons 2-0
The Panthers got the second half off to a promising start as Suaia Matagi broke the line in their first set and charged away. As the Dragons defence recovered, they conceded a 43rd minute penalty right in front of the posts. Jamie Soward knocked it over to lock up the scores.
However the Dragons continued to mount pressure on the Panthers defensive line and in the 53rd minute a scything run from Euan Aitken finally split it open. The Dragons centre’s try was converted by Widdop to make the score 8-2.
The try seemed to take some of the fight out of Penrith and moments later Will Smith was driven backwards in the tackle and lost possession. It was only a subsequent error in the play-the-ball from Josh McCrone which saved them from conceding more points.
Out of nowhere the Panthers struck with 19 minutes left in the contest. Running the ball on the last tackle, Merrin found himself in space, offloaded for Fisher-Harris, who in turn found Hiku. Penrith’s off-season recruit was again the man on the spot to claim his fourth try in four games. Soward nailed the conversion to make it 8-8.
Running the ball back with ten minutes to go, Smith copped a shot from Joel Thompson and was knocked out cold. The Panthers fullback was stretchered from the field and Thompson found himself placed on report for the collision.
From the next possession a Soward grubber earned the Panthers a repeat set and they found the decisive play they were after. On the back on some strong work from the Penrith forwards, a smart run and pass from Soward put a flying Josh Mansour away to score in the corner. The playmaker couldn’t convert from out wide, leaving the score 12-8 with six minutes to play.
However the kick-off then went over the touchline after a bounce, giving the Dragons the chance to hit right back. And they did. As the Panthers attempted to hold out Josh Dugan showed strength in the tackle to stretch and plant the ball. Widdop nailed the conversion and the Dragons took a 14-12 lead with two minutes left in the game.
The short kick-off didn’t produce the goods for the Panthers and the Dragons effectively shut the game down as time ran out.
FULLTIME – Dragons 14-12