The Panthers have fallen to the South Sydney Rabbitohs 21-20 in a tightly-contested affair at Pepper Stadium.
A late change to the side saw Sione Katoa make his return to the top grade, in place of Viliame Kikau who dropped off the bench.
A wayward pass from Michael Oldfield squandered possession to gift the Rabbitohs the first opportunity to put points on the board, which they duly did courtesy of a penalty goal to Adam Reynolds after four minutes.
Two minutes later, the Souths had the first try of the game. Reynolds put Angus Crichton in a gap and he found Sam Burgess back on the inside for the skipper to score. Reynolds second kick in as many minutes gave his side an early 8-0 lead.
The Panthers slowly started to work their way back in to the contest and had their reward in the fifteenth minute thanks to the brotherly combination of the Watene-Zelezniak’s.
Te Maire Martin collected the rebound off a kick and scooted down the blind side to link up with Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, who found brother Dallin back on the inside to score. Nathan Cleary landed the conversion to bring the score back to 8-6.
The NRL Bunker came in to play in the 25th minute when Robert Jennings worked his way over the line, but was ruled to have been held up by some desperate defence from Isaah Yeo.
The Panthers soon turned defence in to attack and found themselves in the lead just shy of the half hour mark through Corey Harawira-Naera. With the defence sliding, the backrower straightened up the attack and punched his way through the line. Cleary’s second successful conversion made it 12-8.
The boot of Cleary extended the lead further in the 33rd minute when a penalty was given after Martin was taken out of play chasing a Cleary bomb. The halfback converted the easy penalty goal to give his side a converted-try lead.
A penalty deep in to the first half afforded the visitors an opportunity to level the scores on the stroke of half time. Another left-sided attack fell to the hands of Cody Walker who ran around his marker to score. Reynolds converted from near the sideline to send the two sides back to the sheds locked up at 14-all.
HALF TIME: Penrith Panthers 14 – 14 South Sydney Rabbitohs
The away side carried the momentum they created in to the second half as Walker continued to trouble the Panthers right edge defence. His run and offload found Reynolds clear in space to put his team ahead. Reynolds would convert his own try to make it 20-14 after 45 minutes.
Some dubious decision-making from the man with the whistle allowed the Souths forwards to build momentum and dominate field territory for much of the second period. However, the Panthers continued to try and wrestle their way back in to the contest and had their reward thanks to Michael Oldfield.
The former Rabbitoh was on the end of a sweeping Panthers attack and touched down in the corner to hurt his old side with four minutes remaining. Cleary stepped up to level the scores from the sideline and set up a nail-biting finish with scores tied at 20-all.
A penalty to the Rabbitohs off a towering kick carried them up-field for one last attempt to settle the game in regular time. Reynolds stepped up and slotted home a drop goal to seal a 21-20 win.
FULL TIME: Penrith Panthers 20 – 21 South Sydney Rabbitohs