The Panthers have clinched a crucial 28-14 win over Wests Tigers at Pepper Stadium that has catapulted them in to the top eight on the NRL ladder.
A double from Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and the accuracy of Nathan Cleary’s goal kicking provided the ammunition for the Panthers who celebrated victory in front a raucous crowd of 15,780.
A length of the field set from the home side resulted in Tyrone May crossing over inside the opening ten minutes but was denied by the Bunker after Aaron Woods milked a penalty for obstruction.
The Panthers looked to have gone in again when Tyrone Peachey jinked his way through the Tigers defence but again the Bunker would deny them the opening points for obstruction – this time controversially after Matt Eisenhuth collapsed into Peter Wallace.
But he wasn’t to be denied moments later when David Nofoaluma spilled the ball in to Peachey’s hands and left the centre with the simple task of running to the try line with no defence in front of him. Nathan Cleary sunk the conversion from the sideline as the Panthers took a 6-0 lead midway through the half.
A third decision would be referred to the Bunker after 25 minutes when Nofoaluma crossed over, which resulted in the Tigers first points of the game following the green light. A missed conversion from Tuimoala Lolohea kept the score at 6-4.
The Panthers hit back just past the half hour mark when a sweeping attacking move on the right edge resulted in Dallin Watene-Zelezniak leaping over in the corner. Cleary’s conversion struck the upright and bounced clear to remain 10-4.
The Bunker would bail the Tigers out again with seconds remaining in the half when Michael Chee Kam and Eisenhuth tangled in the middle leading to Nofoaluma’s second try. Again Lolohea missed the conversion as the Panthers took a two point lead in to the break.
HALF-TIME: Penrith Panthers 10 – 8 Wests Tigers
Dylan Edwards got the Panthers off to the perfect start five minutes after the restart when he caught a hesitant Tigers defence retreating to work his way to the line. Cleary kicked the home further ahead to lead 16-8.
An error in attack from the Panthers gifted the Tigers possession to run up field and post a response on the scoreboard in the 53rd minute through Luke Brooks. The number seven took advantage of a lack of retreating defenders to sprint away and plant down underneath the black dot. Lolohea landed his first kick of the evening to bring it back to 16-14.
With the game on the line and a chance to enter the top eight, the Panthers stood tall to land the killer blow thanks to Watene-Zelezniak’s second five minutes from time.
Corey Harawira-Naera broke through the defence and linked with Waqa Blake who found Watene-Zelezniak unmarked on the wing to score, before Cleary’s conversion put them beyond a converted try at 22-14.
After being denied earlier, May had his reward with two minutes remaining on the clock when he wrestled over from close range to seal a vital 28-14 win and take the Panthers in to the top half of the table.
FULL-TIME: Penrith Panthers 28 – 14 Wests Tigers