The Panthers conceded two tries in the final two minutes to go down 24-22 against Wyong Roos in Intrust Super Premiership NSW at Morry Breen Oval on Saturday.
A successful return from injury by Dean Whare wasn't enough for the Panthers who looked on course to defeat the table-topping Roos before a late surge snatched victory for the hosts.
Back-to-back penalties allowed Wyong the first chance to add points via the boot of Jayden Nikorima but his attempted kick sailed wide of the uprights.
Instead they would open the scoring in the 15th minute through Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck after the winger juggled a pass and regained possession as he fell over the try line. Paul Momirovski took over kicking duties and landed the conversion from the sideline for a 6-0 lead.
That would kick the Panthers in to gear and they hit back midway through the half thanks to an offload from Viliame Kikau in the lead up. The backrower managed to free an arm to find Mitch Rein in support, eventually finding Christian Crichton unmarked out wide to bring it back to 6-4.
A 40/20 from Rein on the half hour mark put the Panthers on the front foot, allowing them to take the lead through Moses Leota. Sitaleki Akauola at first receiver attracted the defence’s attention and fed his front row partner to crash over underneath the crossbar. Nicholls’ conversion pushed the score out to 10-6.
A missed penalty on Jed Cartwright by the officials handed the Roos a chance to equalise five minutes from the break, which they would do thanks to Tuivasa-Sheck’s second. A quick set-play from the hosts opened the space for the winger to go over untouched in the corner. Momirovski kicked his side in front from the sideline 12-10.
HALF-TIME: Wyong Roos 12 – 10 Penrith Panthers
A strong carry from Cartwright inside his own half helped the Panthers up field to retake the lead in the 51st minute through Whare. A 50 metre run, followed by a quick play the ball, allowed Whare the time and space to run around his marker to score in the corner and put his side ahead 14-12.
They would extend their lead on the hour mark when Crichton capped off a last tackle run with his second try. An offload from Liam Martin kept the ball alive and went through the hands to find Crichton on the wing to stretch out and score. Nicholls’ conversion struck the upright and bounced clear to keep the score at 18-12.
Despite an off day with the boot, Nicholls crossed over inside the final ten minutes to extend their lead. The halfback exploited a hole in the defence to race through and score but couldn’t convert as the Panthers held a 22-12 lead.
However, with victory seemingly in sight, the Panthers crumbled to allow Wyong a late double to clinch victory. Matt Ikuvalu twice exploited space on the right edge to break the hearts of the Panthers and extend their lead at the top of the table.
FULL-TIME: Wyong Roos 24 – 22 Penrith Panthers