The Panthers are one game from glory after booking a place in the Grand Final of the 2017 Intrust Super Premiership NSW competition with a 16-12 win over Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday.
A highly polished performance from the Panthers booked a date with Wyong Roos in the decider, however will be sweating on the fitness of star playmaker Jarome Luai and boom forward Liam Martin after both limped off with leg injuries.
The skills of the Panthers were on show early as Darren Nicholls, Kaide Ellis and Jed Cartwright produced consecutive deft passes to release Maika Sivo. The winger capped off the move with a strong step to continue his fine scoring form in the 8th minute for a 4-0 lead.
They nearly doubled their lead ten minutes later when Mitch Rein leaped over Brad Abbey to claim a Nicholls chip kick but he hooker’s efforts were in vain after being called offside.
Once again the referee’s whistle denied the Panthers as Sivo thought he had his second try but an obstruction in the lead-up relieved the pressure on the Bulldogs.
Strong defence from the Panthers maintained their advantage midway through the half when Renouf To’omaga looked certain to score but was denied by Sitaleki Akauola just short of the line.
That moment proved vital as they edged further ahead after a perfectly timed ball from Cartwright put Tony Satini in a hole to score in the 28th minute. Nicholls’ conversion struck the upright to keep the score at 8-0.
The Bulldogs managed to strike back in the 36th minute when Francis Tualau salvaged a moment out of nothing after breaking through the line and linking up with Tyrone Phillips. The skipper’s try brought his side back to within two points following Rhyse Martin’s conversion.
HALF-TIME: Penrith Panthers 8 - Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 6
The Panthers overcame their disappointing end to the first half by striking first five minutes after the restart thanks to the class of VIliame Kikau. The monstrous backrower produced late offload for Christian Crichton to streak away 60 metres and score to make it 12-6.
It was a quick-fire double for the Panthers when Mitch Rein weaved his way over the line from dummy-half in the 53rd minute to edge his side further ahead at 16-6.
Sivo was again denied his second of the game when he wrestled his way in to the Bulldogs area and planted it down, but Corey Wadell was pinged for illegally driving his winger over the try line.
Satini’s sin-binning in the 78th minute led to the Bulldogs scoring through Martin, who converted his own try, to make it 16-12 and set up a grandstand finish.
Despite a frantic final crack at a match-winner, the Bulldogs were to be denied by the Panthers who will look to continue their fine tradition in this competition when they take on Wyong next week.
FULL-TIME: Penrith Panthers 16 - Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 12