Penrith have hung on to defeat South Sydney 28-26 in a match that went down to the final whistle in front of 13,080 fans on a cold winter’s night at Pepper Stadium.
With South Sydney trailing by 14 points with just ten minutes left to play, it looked as though Penrith had secured a comfortable victory. That was until Sam Burgess injected himself into the contest, bagging a pair of tries to send the game down to the wire. Only an unlucky bounce prevented South Sydney winger Aaron Gray from picking up a kicked ball and running off downfield to change the final result.
With two vital points secured on a night Peter Wallace played his 200th match and Josh Mansour’s re-signing was announced, Penrith now move back into the top 8, while South Sydney slip to four defeats in a row.
Souths were first to strike in the game when Kyle Turner opened the scoring in the 10th minute running a straight-line that put him in directly under the posts. From prime position, Cody Walker added the extra two-points with ease.
A penalty to Penrith soon after allowed them to recover and move out of their own end of the field. Their first real attack of the night beckoned and with a sleek, sweeping play down the right side, Matt Moylan was able to put a pass on Dallin Watene-Zelezniak’s chest to make it 6-4. Nathan Cleary took on the kicking duties and converted from just a few metres inside the touchline to level the scores.
Penrith looked to be in for their second in the 20th minute but Tyrone Peachey couldn’t collect Bryce Cartwright’s kick before it went dead in-goal. Peachey was lucky to escape injury when he slid into the fence in the greasy conditions.
South Sydney elected to take a penalty kick in the 22nd minute from 14 metres out and Walker put them back in the lead at 8-6.
Walker was in the thick of it again when he made a run in the centre of the field, eluding Bryce Cartwright and darting off down the left edge. He looked dangerous and while he didn’t find the try-line, Souths were given another set after a Penrith knock-on.
Some tactile defence allowed Penrith to fight their way out of trouble and when a penalty was awarded after Matt Moylan was hit high by Sam Burgess, the game had shifted from end-to-end.
The Panthers took their opportunity when five-eighth Bryce Cartwright was able to free an arm and offload to newly re-signed winger Josh Mansour, who crossed in the corner. Cleary couldn’t extend the lead and the score remained 10-8 after 30 minutes.
South Sydney held the majority of possession for the last ten minutes of the first-half, but they couldn’t break the Panthers’ defence.
A penalty to Penrith in the 39th minute gave them one last chance before the break and they almost had a try when some tricky flick passing saw them create something from nothing, but the bounce from a grubber kick pushed the ball over the sideline.
Halftime: Panthers 10 Rabbitohs 8
An error early into the second-half proved costly for Penrith when South Sydney were handed the ball just twenty metres out from the Panthers try-line.
The experienced Greg Inglis was given plenty of room to move in his old position of left centre and it was like he had never left, cutting through for a try. In just the 45th minute, Souths had reclaimed the lead after Walker’s successful conversion at 14-10.
A high-tackle on Leilani Latu in the 54th minute put Penrith back on the attack, but the Rabbitohs were coming up with some enthustic defence. Nathan Cleary earned the home side a repeat set when he put through a dangerous grubber kick and it was another six when Souths held Latu down for too long.
Latu got involved again just a few plays later and there was no stopping him when Wallace passed him the ball right in-front of the posts. The conversion had Penrith back in front by two points with the lead now 16-14.
With the momentum now swinging to the team from the West, South Sydney were unable to stop a piercing run from Bryce Cartwright which led to Nathan Cleary’s first try at Pepper Stadium in the 61st minute. Cleary converted to make it 22-14.
Penrith were denied a try in the 67th minute after an exciting wall-to-wall play that ended with Tyrone Peachey sliding onto in-goal grass, only for The Bunker to rule a South Sydney player had been taken out.
Soon after, ex-Rabbitoh Chris Grevsmuhl barged over his former teammates to claim his first Panthers’ try. Cleary converted in the 71st minute and made Penrith’s lead 28-14.
Despite displaying some desperate defence to deny Souths a try on their fourth tackle, Penrith then allowed Sam Burgess to run onto a grubber kick and hit back. The conversion from Walker brought it back to an eight point-game at 28-20 with 6 minutes left to play.
Sam Burgess grabbed a second try, with Walker converting to send the final minutes into a frenzy. In the end, Penrith were able to survive Souths’ fast finish and secure a vital victory.
Fulltime: Panthers 28 Rabbitohs 26