The ISP Panthers did just enough to hold off North Sydney Bears 24-16 at St Marys Leagues Stadium on Saturday.
The Panthers made the perfect start in the second minute when they took the lead without the Bears touching the ball. VIliame Kikau drew the attention of three defenders before finding a late offload to Jed Cartwright in space for a 4-0 lead.
They would double their lead in the 7th minute when Corey Waddell palmed off his opposite man to break through the line and race 30 metres to score.
The early flurry of points continued in the 17th minute thanks to the unlikely front-row combination of Kaide Ellis and Sitaleki Akauola. Ellis picked out an onrushing Akauola from first receiver, who was too big and strong for the Bears defence, to crash over beneath the crossbar allowing Darren Nicholls a simple conversion for a 14-0 lead.
The Bears hit back in the 26th minute when Sitiveni Moceidreke was first to a grubber from Luke Kelly to cut the deficit to ten points following the missed conversion.
The deficit was cut to an unconverted try past the half hour mark when Fred Mauala muscled his way over the line from close range and Eli Levido added the extras to make it 14-10.
A penalty on the siren allowed Nicholls to kick the Panthers further ahead as they took a 16-10 lead in to the break.
HALF-TIME: Penrith Panthers 16 – 10 North Sydney Bears
A free-flowing contest turned to an arm-wrestle following the restart until Tony Satini came off the bench to extend the Panthers’ lead with half an hour to play.
Kikau’s strong carry was halted by an illegal strip which was allowed to play on when Satini scooped the ball and streaked away. Nicholls converted from near the sideline to make it 22-10.
The Bears weren’t going to allow the Panthers to get out of reach and they responded in the 64th to get back to within a converted try. Adam Doueihi pounced on a fumble from Kelly’s grubber to make it 22-16 following Levido’s conversion.
A mini brawl broke out in back play which saw each side play out the final five minutes with a man on the sidelines as Ellis and Brad Deitz were given their marching orders.
A penalty goal from Nicholls with two minutes remaining edged the Panthers further ahead as they clung on to claim a precious victory and provided the perfect platform ahead of their finals campaign.
FULL-TIME: Penrith Panthers 24 – 16 North Sydney Bears