The Panthers have completed one of the biggest comebacks in their history, overturning a 22-point deficit at half-time, to run out 36-28 winners against the Warriors at Pepper Stadium.
The home side pulled themselves out of a hole early in the second-half as they ran in five tries to nil to seal the win and keep their finals hopes alive.
The Warriors were gifted possession in the Panthers half when Nathan Cleary’s kick went out on the full before some good fortune carried them to the try line for the opening points of the game in the fifth minute.
Continuous offloads and a scrappy final pass from Bodene Thompson fell in to the hands of Kieran Foran who gathered and fell over the try line. Shaun Johnson converted to give the visitors a 6-0 lead.
A wayward pass from Bryce Cartwright was intercepted by David Fusitu’a and was certain to score if not for a last-ditch tackle from Waqa Blake, but the centre was put in the sin bin for a professional foul after holding on to the man for too long.
With the man advantage, the Warriors had their second try in the 13th minute when an overlap found Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad alone on the wing to score. Johnson’s conversion sailed wide to keep the score at 10-0.
PRESS CONFERENCE: Anthony Griffin & Matt Moylan speak to the media
They had their third five minutes later when Ryan Hoffman ran on to a short ball from Sam Lisone and brushed off a Cartwright tackle, before Johnson’s boot extended the lead to 16-0.
With Waqa Blake back on the field, the Panthers started to see more of the ball and they capitalised on their first foray forward thanks to Isaiah Yeo. With a step and fend, the backrower found himself in open space to run through and score next to the uprights. Cleary knocked over the simple kick to bring it back to 16-6.
However, a misread from Dallin Watene-Zelezniak gifted the Warriors a 40/20 and again they would punish the Panthers courtesy of Nicoll-Klokstad’s second. A fortunate bounce from a Foran grubber sat up kindly for the winger for the simple put down. Johnson kicked the conversion to push the score out to 22-6.
With the half-time siren beckoning, the Panthers looked to have the final crack at the Warriors line but another wayward pass was intercepted by Fusitu’a to race 90 metres for the Warriors fifth try. Johnson’s conversion was successful to hand his side a 28-6 lead at the break.
HALF-TIME: Penrith Panthers 6 – 28 NZ Warriors
With their season in jeopardy, the home side needed to respond and they did so through Yeo seven minutes after the restart. The Panthers decided to run the ball on the last and Cartwright laid off a perfectly weighted ball for Yeo to run through the line and get his second try. Cleary added the extras to make it 28-12.
They nearly had another moments later when Cleary chased down his own kick but grounded the ball just shy of the line and lost possession to let the Warriors escape.
The Panthers weren’t to be denied in the 53rd minute when Corey Harawira-Naera’s bat back fell to Cartwright who delivered an inch-perfect kick for Watene-Zelezniak to mark and score out wide. Cleary landed the conversion to make it 28-18.
The flurry of activity continued in the 55th minute when Blake was put in acres of space to streak away and bring the home side to within four points after Cleary’s conversion made it 28-24.
With a raucous home crowd and plenty of momentum in their favour, the Panthers found themselves in front after Matt Moylan wrestled his way over the line. Cleary kicked his fifth straight goal to edge his side ahead 30-28.
The miraculous comeback was complete with four minutes left in the game when Watene-Zelezniak broke free of the defence and found Tyrone Peachey on the inside who raced away to score in the corner and bring Pepper Stadium to its feet. Cleary’s sideline conversion pushed the score out to 36-28 and sealed a memorable win in front of a boisterous crowd.
FULL-TIME: Penrith Panthers 36 – 28 NZ Warriors