Showing glimpses of rare form, the Panthers pulled off an upset 31-12 victory over Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium on Friday.
The Panthers raced out of the blocks in the first half to snag an 18-0 lead at the break and battled hard in the second stanza to hold as the Broncos improved.
Reagan Campbell-Gillard was a late withdrawal for the Panthers with the elbow injury he suffered last week against the Eels. Suaia Matagi shifted into the starting side, with Moses Leota taking his place on the bench.
There was early disappointment as Waqa Blake dropped a Matt Moylan pass with the line at his mercy. However the centre soon atoned for his error as he cleaned up a Broncos bomb at the other end of the field and ran the length of Suncorp Stadium to touch down in the 9th minute. Nathan Cleary knocked the conversion over for a 6-0 lead.
An error from Broncos winger Corey Oates under the high ball soon put the Panthers right back on the attack. Taking a short ball, James Fisher-Harris crashed over in the tackle for a 13th minute try. Cleary was on target with the conversion and the Panthers led 12-0.
Blake’s night was over in the 26th minute as he flew for a high ball and knocked himself out as he hit the ground. He was replaced by English international Zak Hardaker, who earned a penalty with his first run.
The Panthers couldn’t believe their luck in the 34th minute as a Broncos drop-out didn’t travel the required ten metres. Cleary gratefully accepted the gift penalty kick in front of the posts and the visitors were ahead 14-0.
A near-faultless half of rugby league was capped off for the Panthers as Hardaker touched down for his first try in the NRL. The Englishman was on the receiving end of some well-timed hands from Moylan and Bryce Cartwright in the 39th minute. Cleary couldn’t convert from out wide as the siren sounded.
HALFTIME – Panthers 18-0
The Panthers couldn’t quite make the same impression in the opening exchanges of the second half. Some promising attacks came to nought as the Broncos defence found some steel.
They visitors were called on to defend their own line as the possession statistics slowly began to level themselves out.
A single missed tackle from Cartwright was all it took for Darius Boyd to slip his way through the line and open Brisbane’s account in the 58th minute. Corey Parker sent the conversion over to make it 18-6.
Moylan popped up to score a try for the Panthers with 14 minutes left in the contest. It came on the back of an offload from Trent Merrin and some nice hands from Leilani Latu. Cleary put the simple conversion over to make it 24-6.
Turning defence into attack, James Roberts finished off a Broncos breakaway try in the 70th minute to ensure the game was far from over. Parker’s conversion made in 24-12.
However a Moylan field goal with five minutes to play made it 25-12 and put the game out of reach for the Broncos.
Merrin then capped off an outstanding showing in his 150th NRL game with a try in the final minute of the game.
FULLTIME - Panthers 31-12