The patched-up NYC Panthers pulled off an incredible 24-16 victory over Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium on Saturday.
Despite losing a man to the sin bin late in the game, the young Panthers showed grit and determination to not only hold the Tigers out, but then go on to score the match-winner.
Injuries and call-ups meant Panthers NYC coach Cam Ciraldo was forced to reshuffle what was already a new-look outfit. Dean Blore shifted to fullback and Sean O’Sullivan was promoted off the bench into the halves alongside Jarome Luai.
After five minutes Blore made a clean break up the middle and found Braidon Burns on his outside to score out wide. Jarome Luai sent the conversion sailing over for an early 6-0 lead.
It looked like the Panthers would cross again three minutes later but Wests Tigers winger Roman Ioelu snatched a last-ditch intercept and ran 90m to score. A successful conversion attempt locked the game up.
It was another Panthers linebreak through the heart of the Tigers defence, followed by some slick hands, to send Blore over for a try in the 14th minute. Luai’s conversion made the score 12-6.
A questionable pass was overlooked by the referee as Taniela Paseka steamed over for the Tigers in the 20th minute. Another simple conversion for Ioelu and the game was again level at 12-12.
Five minutes later the Panthers found some joy running the ball on the final play and Christian Crichton dived over in the corner. Luai couldn’t convert from out wide, leaving the score 16-12.
Crichton grabbed his second try in the 35th minute as a sloppy Tigers turnover gifted the Panthers unexpected possession. A quick spread found space on the right edge and Burns expertly sent his winger over. Again Luai was unable to convert and the score remained 20-12.
The Tigers struck in the shadows of halftime as Ioelu was on the end of an accurate cut-out pass. The winger was unable to convert his own try so the difference was four points at the break.
HALFTIME – Panthers 20-16
The second half was largely a feisty but forgettable affair as both sides struggled to find the gaps they had been afforded in the first stanza.
The decisive moment came with 12 minutes to play. With the Panthers on the attack, a Luai fifth-tackle kick was caught on the full by Tigers five-eighth Jai Doolan.
The playmaker streaked away and looked set to score before being hunted down by Luai himself. In the try-saving tackle Doolan lost the ball but the referee deemed Luai had illegally stripped it and sent him to the sin bin.
Down a man, and arguably their most important player, the Panthers fought desperately to hold on. On the back of a vital penalty, Wayde Egan popped up and crashed over with a scoot out of dummy half. Blore missed the conversion and the score remained 24-16.
FULLTIME – Panthers 24-16