Tyrone May’s late try has broken the hearts of the Raiders to seal a 26-22 victory in an enthralling contest in the Nation’s Capital.
A half-time lead to the Panthers was overturned by the home side but the utility came off the bench to provide the difference and extend the Panthers’ winning streak to seven.
An error from Joseph Tapine in the opening set laid a platform for the Panthers to open the scoring through Waqa Blake in the 3rd minute. With Nathan Cleary held in a tackle, the Panthers opted to run it on the last, allowing Blake to weave through the Raiders defence. Cleary would convert to make it 6-0.
A fast-paced start from the visitors had the Raiders under the pump, leading to a penalty that allowed Cleary to kick the Panthers outside a converted try in the 12th minute.
A strong run from Josh Papalii earnt a penalty for a repeat set in the Panthers half, leading to Nick Cotric’s opener for the home side. Captain Jarrod Croker’s conversion faded across the face of goal to remain 8-4.
Sturdy defence on their own line led to a Panthers counter-attack from inside their own half when Blake dazzled the Raiders defence before linking with Cleary back on the inside to post his 200th point of the season. He would convert his own try from right in front to push the score out to 14-4 with nearly half an hour on the clock.
Another penalty late in the tackle count let the Raiders back in to the contest when Dave Taylor released a late offload for Papalii to score in the 34th minute. This time Croker would convert to bring his side back to 14-10 on the scoreboard.
A slice of fortune allowed Josh Mansour to relieve the pressure on his own line, leading to the winger extending the Panthers lead just shy of the half-time siren with a typically powerful run. Cleary’s conversion sent the Panthers back to the sheds with a ten-point lead.
HALF-TIME: Canberra Raiders 10 – 20 Penrith Panthers
A lacklustre opening to the second half from the Panthers allowed the Raiders back in to the game when Jack Wighton fooled Tyrone Peachey to dive over in the corner in the 45th minute. Croker drilled in the conversion from the sideline to make it 20-16.
The same wing produced the next try for the Raiders to get level on the scoreboard in the 56th minute when Tapine burst through a gap between Matt Moylan and Peachey. Croker’s conversion kicked the home side ahead 22-20.
Both sides traded attacking opportunities but the opposition defence, and poor execution, would deny them points until May provided a touch of class to put the Panthers ahead.
Repeat sets to the Panthers were batted away by the Raiders until the utility emerged off the bench to wrestle his way over the line in the 74th minute. A simple conversion for Cleary would take the score out to 26-22 in favour of the visitors.
Despite a late roll of the dice from the Raiders, the visitors held firm to deny the home side and end their season as the Panthers all but sealed their passage in to the Finals.
FULL-TIME: Canberra Raiders 22 – 26 Penrith Panthers