The NYC Panthers triumphed 36-32 in a thrilling contest against Parramatta Eels at ANZ Stadium on Saturday.
The win extends the Panthers unbeaten run to seven games and secures their position at the top of the Holden Cup table.
Panthers winger Daniel Brown celebrated his birthday, not to mention the birth of his second child on Friday, with a hat-trick in the first half.
Carl Winterstein opened the scoring after only 90 seconds, crashing over from close range after some slick offloads in the Panthers first set. Dean Blore slotted the simple conversion for a 6-0 lead.
The Panthers increased their lead five minutes later as a simple spread to the left edge found space. Winger Brown streaked away and stepped past the Eels fullback to score. Blore’s conversion made it 12-0 in favour of the visitors.
Some twinkle toes from playmaker Jarome Luai opened up yet more space for Brown in the 16th minute and the winger touched down for his second. Blore nailed the conversion to make the score 18-0.
The Eels struck back midway through the half when Kamren Cryer produced a perfect cut-out pass for Dane Aukafolau to stroll over for the Eels’ opener. Cryer converted the extras to bring it back to 18-6.
The Eels had a quick-fire double just moments later. A penalty in the set following the kick off carried them up field and Ray Stone capitalised with a charging run through to the try line. Cryer’s conversion brought the home side back to within a converted try.
It sparked the Panthers back in to life and a penalty of their own put them on the front foot. The referee missed a clear Stefano Hala try but they weren’t to be denied when the ball spread to Daniel Brown to complete his hat trick after 27 minutes. Blore’s conversion made it 24-12.
The flurry of tries continued on the half hour mark when the Panthers restored their three-try advantage through Sam Martin-Savage. The centre was the first to pick up a charge down and streaked away under the posts. Blore’s conversion from right in front to make it 30-12.
The Eels’ Greg Leleisiuao crossed over in the corner in the 36th minute after brushing the defence away. Cryer’s conversion sailed just wide to keep the score at 30-16.
There was still enough time on the clock for Eels skipper Denzal Tonise scored the ninth try of the half when he barged over from short range. Cryer knocked over the conversion as his side went in to the break trailing 30-22.
HALFTIME - Panthers 30-22
The free-flowing football continued early after the restart when Eels fullback Anthony Layoun crossed over four minutes in to the half. Cryer’s conversion brought the home side back to within two points.
The Panthers struck back ten minutes later through Brian Too. The instrumental Jarome Luai managed a perfectly weighted pass for the winger to dive over in the corner. Blore nailed the conversion from the sideline to push the score out to 36-28.
A period of pressure for the hosts resulted in points after 63 minutes. Aukafolau managed to get an arm free to offload for his winger John Fonua to score. Cryer’s conversion hit the upright and the score remained 36-32.
The Eels had plenty of opportunities to steal the victory late on but determined Panthers defence on their own line kept them at bay to hang on to a 36-32 win.
FULLTIME - Panthers 36-32