The Dragons have downed the Panthers 16-14 in blustery conditions at Pepper Stadium to leave both sides sitting on the brink of Finals qualification.
A half-time downpour contributed to a scrappy affair as the Panthers were left to lament missed opportunities and poor execution to slip to their first defeat in eight games.
The Dragons began on the front foot courtesy of back-to-back seven tackles sets and looked to have opened their account in the 5th minute through Nene Macdonald but for a desperate covering tackle from Tyrone Peachey forcing the winger in to touch.
However, they wouldn’t have to wait much longer when Paul Vaughan barged his way through the defensive line from close range in the 10th minute. The damaging prop ran on to a short ball and burst through a gap to give the Dragons a 6-0 lead following Gareth Widdop’s conversion.
The visitors were almost in again but for another industrious defensive play from Peachey, this time dragging Kurt Mann out in to touch with the try line in sight.
That would keep the Dragons within one try and allow the Panthers to equalise on the half hour mark. With Nathan Cleary held on the last tackle, Tyrone May took control and feigned a pass before stepping off his left foot and working his way to the try line. A simple conversion from Cleary made it 6-all.
Repeat sets on the Dragons line eventually led to a penalty for the home side after Cleary was collected by a late tackle from Cameron McInnes, allowing him to kick the Panthers in front with a penalty goal.
Their lead was short-lived as the Dragons took advantage of a penalty close to the line to score through Matt Dufty on the stroke of half-time. Widdop’s challenging conversion handed his side a 12-8 lead at the break.
HALF-TIME: Penrith Panthers 8 – 12 St George Illawarra Dragons
The Panthers re-emerged physically but not mentally from the break with penalties and errors forcing them in to repeat defensive efforts on their own line until Josh Mansour provided a moment of magic in the 50th minute.
The combination of Peachey and Mansour created space on the left edge and Mansour did the rest, slicing through the Dragons defence to score next to the uprights, allowing Cleary a straightforward conversion to edge ahead 14-12.
Again with the Panthers would be their own worst enemy and allow the Dragons to regain the lead just shy of the hour mark. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak fielded a kick and charged in to Tariq Sims who stripped possession and streaked away for a 16-14 lead.
Chances to turn the deficit around kept presenting themselves to the Panthers but their lack of execution and poor handling would cost them the opportunity to score points and eventually the game.
The Dragons ultimately held on for a tightly-fought 16-14 victory that leaves both sides needing results on the final weekend to ensure Finals football.
FULL-TIME: Penrith Panthers 14 – 16 St George Illawarra Dragons