The Panthers pulled off an incredible 20-18 victory with a try on the final play against Parramatta at Pirtek Stadium on Sunday.
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Coach Anthony Griffin elected to put Jeremy Latimore, back from suspension, on the Panthers bench at the expense of Suaia Matagi. David Gower replaced the injured Tim Mannah for the Eels.
The Eels appeared to have opened the scoring in the 5th minute as Brad Takairangi sliced through a gap and touched down. However the video referee ruled the Panthers defence had been disadvantaged by a lead runner and sent back a ‘no try’ decision.
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In the 10th minute Isaah Yeo went desperately close for the Panthers, then Trent Merrin was held up over the line. However the much-vaunted Parramatta defensive line held firm as Jamie Soward’s bomb was defused.
In the 19th minute Parramatta enjoyed a full set on the Panthers line but some desperate, scrambling defence managed to repel the attackers.
A minute later a Soward bomb on the fifth tackle was allowed to bounce by the Eels back three and as they watched on, Tyrone Peachey swooped. He found men on the outside and some neat draw-and-pass sent Bryce Cartwright over for what looked like the opener. However the video referee once again hit the red lights, deeming Te Maire Martin was offside in the play.
Instead it was Parramatta who took the first lead of the game as Junior Paulo caught a short ball and powered his way over the tryline. Michael Gordon was on target with the conversion attempt and the Eels led 6-0 in the 25th minute.
Five minutes later the Eels looked like they had got on the outside of the Panthers defence but Takairangi’s offload missed its mark.
The Panthers were under increasing territorial pressure and their response was to attempt the sneaky offload and quick hands on the fringes. Neither of the options appeared to work in their favour and they were guilty of turning over easy ball coming out of trouble.
Seemingly out of nowhere, back-to-back penalties sent the Panthers marching downfield. As they began their attack on the Parramatta line, Leilani Latu found a skilful offload to put Cartwright over. This time the video referee hit the green lights. Soward’s successful conversion locked the score up at 6-6 with three minutes until the break.
HALFTIME – Panthers 6 – 6 Eels
The Panthers struck first after halftime on the back of another penalty. With a jinking run, Josh Mansour put the defenders on the back foot before Peter Wallace scooted out of dummy half and dived over. Soward nailed the conversion for a 12-6 lead in the 45th minute.
Running the ball back on a kick return eight minutes later, Mansour was deemed to have lost possession in the tackle despite more than a hint of a strip. From there Gordon had a simple job to gather the loose ball and touch down. However the fullback was unable to convert the try, leaving the Panthers in the lead 12-10 in the 54th minute.
The Eels looked certain to hit the lead a couple minutes later but winger Clint Gutherson was unable to reel in the final pass thrown by Takairangi.
A decisive moment in the game arrived in the 62nd minute as Te Maire Martin’s kick on the fifth tackle rebounded off the Parramatta defenders and was regathered by Corey Norman who broke downfield. From the ensuing play the Eels earned back-to-back penalties and elected to take the two points on offer. Gordon did the honour and with 15 minutes to play the score was locked up at 12-12.
From the restart Gutherson found space down the right edge and his chip over the top took a cruel bounce for the Panthers, sitting up perfectly for Parramatta hooker Isaac Do Gois to scoop it up and score. Gordon made no mistake with the conversion attempt and the Eels were out to an 18-12 lead with 13 minutes left.
The Panthers gave themselves a shot with four minutes to play as Moylan popped up with some lightning hands on the left edge to send Mansour over for the try. Soward had a conversion attempt from the sideline to again level the score but it was waved away.
However it was a crossfield kick from Soward in the final second of the game which was reeled in by Waqa Blake, who offloaded for Cartwright to score the match-winner.
FULLTIME – Panthers 20-18