The NYC Panthers will need to use their second life in the Finals after being downed 18-14 in a see-sawing Qualifying Final at Allianz Stadium.
After the Panthers bounced out to an early lead, the Dragons responded with a polished second-half effort to secure a week off, while the Panthers live to fight another day.
The Dragons enjoyed early possession and territory but the Panthers scrambled well to repel attacks down both flanks.
An incredible passage of play saw the Panthers open the scoring in the 10th minute. A Dean Blore chip kick on the last tackle was intercepted by Dragons winger Steven Marsters, who seemingly lost his bearings and offloaded straight back to Blore. The grateful playmaker broke clear and touched down in the corner. He couldn’t convert his try but Panthers led 4-0.
They doubled their lead past the midway mark of the half when Caleb Aekins spun out of a tackle to link up with his winger Jamon Wormleaton who brushed off a handful of tacklers to score in the corner. Blore’s conversion sailed wide as the score remained 8-0.
With the half-time siren blaring in the background, the Dragons posted their opening points of the game when Jason Gillard swooped upon a loose ball in goal to score. The conversion from Zac Lomax was successful to bring his side back to within two points.
HALF-TIME: St George Illawarra Dragons 6 – 8 Penrith Panthers
An ill-disciplined start from the Panthers following the break gifted the Dragons an opportunity to level the scores in the 43rd minute with a penalty, which Lomax would convert, to make it 8-all.
The Dragons found the lead soon after when Marsters made amends for his earlier error by getting the better of his opposite man Daine Laurie to touch down in the corner. Lomax would again add the extras to extend the lead to 12-8.
The Panthers hit back to reclaim the lead on the hour mark when Sam Martin-Savage mesmerised the Dragons defence with a sharp dummy and step to stroll over with ease. A simple conversion from right in front to Blore pushed the Panthers ahead 14-12.
Their lead would last a matter of minutes when Marsters got his second of the game. Lomax’s offload fell fortuitously to the winger who was unmarked out wide to claim the lead once again. Lomax added the extras from the sideline to make the score 18-14.
The Panthers had one last chance to grab victory but Wayde Egan was cruelly denied by a last-ditch effort by the Dragons who held on for an 18-14 victory.
FULL-TIME: St George Illawarra Dragons 18 – 14 Penrith Panthers