The ISP Panthers overcame a half-time deficit to snatch a 30-24 victory against North Sydney at Panthers Stadium on Saturday.
The home side trailed the Bears by eight points at the break but fought back in the second stanza, despite the sin-binning of Jack Hetherington and an expected spleen injury to Tim Browne, to record a memorable win.
The Bears got off to a blistering start, opening the scoring in the 3rd minute as second rower Thomas Freebairn pounced on an awkward grubber by five-eighth Connor Tracey. Winger Mawene Hiroti added the extras to take North Sydney out to an early 6-0 lead.
The Panthers responded in the 11th minute when captain Kaide Ellis sliced through a hole in the Bears defence and offloaded to centre Tom Eisenhuth, who touched down for Penrith’s opening try. Fullback Chad O’Donnell converted, locking the scores at 6-6.
North Sydney returned to the lead in the 16th minute when Penrith were caught short of numbers out wide following a deflected grubber, allowing centre Braidon Burns to score. Hiroti slotted the conversion to extend the Bears lead to 12-6.
Poor discipline by the Bears gifted the Panthers several opportunities inside the opposition 20-metre line, but the hosts failed to capitalise and suffered a major setback as Tim Browne was forced off with an injury.
The missed chances proved costly, with the Bears extending their lead in the 31st minute as Robbie Farah darted from dummy half and scored, with Hiroti’s conversion widening the gap to 12 points.
An error from the kick-off allowed the Panthers to narrow the margin back to six points however, with hooker Wayde Egan burrowing over from dummy half. O’Donnell converted, taking the score to 18-12 after 34 minutes.
After wasting a late chance in the Bears red zone, the Panthers woes were worsened heading into halftime as Jack Hetherington was sent to the sin bin. Hiroti kicked a penalty goal over the half-time siren, sending the Bears into the sheds with an eight-point lead.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 12-20 BEARS
Despite being down a man, the Panthers came out firing in the second half, surging upfield from the kickoff before Christian Crichton athletically dived over in the corner at the end of a slick backline movement. O’Donnell’s sideline conversion attempt waved away and the score remained 20-16 after 43 minutes.
The Panthers took advantage of consecutive penalties in the 55th minute to cancel out North Sydney’s lead as Egan wriggled free of a number of Bears defenders to squirm over the try line. O’Donnell’s conversion saw the Panthers edge ahead 22-20 and hit their first lead of the afternoon.
A professional foul by Hymel Hunt saw the Bears go down to 12 men and the Panthers took full advantage, with Eisenhuth terrifically diving onto his own grubber to the in-goal to score his second try of the afternoon. O’Donnell nailed the conversion from the sideline, putting the Panthers ahead by 8 points in the 66th minute.
Eisenhuth had a grab a hat-trick in the 69th minute when halfback Liam Coleman picked him out with a deft grubber to the in-goal, however the centre failed to ground the ball as the Bears breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Hetherington was reported for a high tackle as North Sydney pushed for an unlikely comeback, but the Panthers put the result beyond doubt in the 76th minute as O’Donnell kicked a penalty goal.
Amanaki Veamatahau scored in the 79th minute to close the gap to six points, however it proved to be a mere consolation as the Panthers came home with a 30-24 win.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 30-24 BEARS