The ISP Panthers have surrendered a ten point lead to the Newtown Jets, succumbing to an 18-16 defeat at Pepper Stadium.
Garth Brennan was afforded the luxury of naming Corey Harawira-Naera, Viliame Kikau and Sitaleki Akauola as late inclusions to a side that already boasted several players with NRL experience.
Their impact was felt immediately as Harawira-Naera got the home side off to the perfect start after five minutes. An inch-perfect grubber from Jarome Luai held up nicely for the onrushing backrower to swoop in and plant the ball down ahead of two defenders. Darren Nicholls’ conversion was waved away and the score remained 4-0.
Poor decision making and handling cost both sides the opportunity to put points on the board as the first half played out, until Lachlan Stein crossed over for the Panthers’ second just before the half time hooter.
A sweeping move to the left found the hands of Dylan Edwards who delivered a precise cut-out pass for Stein in space to double their lead. Nicholls made the conversion from the sideline to give the Panthers a double-digit lead at the interval.
HALF TIME: Penrith Panthers 10 – 0 Newtown Jets
The scrappy affair continued after the break as both sides were able to put themselves in positions to attack but an abundance of errors and poor execution halted their ability to cross the try line.
It took until the midway point of the second period before either side were able to polish off an attacking move when Fa’amanu Brown got Newtown’s first points of the game. The halfback squeezed through a slight gap and barely managed to ground the ball on the line before converting his own try to bring the visitors back to within four points.
That try sparked the Panthers back in to life and they regained their ten-point advantage thanks to the combination of Luai and Nicholls.
Luai was rushed by the defence close to the line but wriggled free of a handful of defenders before putting Nicholls through next to the posts with a well-timed short ball. Nicholls converted his own four-pointer to push the score out to 16-6 with fifteen minutes left on the clock.
The Panthers were nearly in again moments later when Akauola found himself in space close to the line but couldn’t maintain possession in the act of grounding the ball.
However, it would be the Jets to strike next thanks to an intercept from Edrick Lee. The Panthers had the Jets covered on the right flank but Lee stepped out of the line to take an Edwards pass and race away 90 metres to get his side back in the game. Brown’s conversion was successful to make it 16-12 with six minutes left to play.
The Panthers were left to rue that Akauola error when Jayden Walker raced through to score and tie things up with a minute left to play. Brown stepped up to try and seal the win from the sideline and made no mistake as the Jets overturned the half time deficit to win 18-16.
FULL TIME: Penrith Panthers 16 – 18 Newtown Jets