The Panthers continued their winning start to 2018 on Saturday, coming from behind to claim an emphatic 18-14 victory over the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Panthers Stadium.
After trailing 14-0 for the second consecutive week, the Panthers bounced back in the second half as Tyrone Peachey sealed the emphatic win with a 76th-minute try.
An early string of penalties gifted the Panthers the first attacking opportunity of the match, but instead it was the Rabbitohs who opened the scoring in the 9th minute through a penalty goal by debutant Adam Doueihi.
The Rabbitohs extended their lead in the 15th minute when five-eighth Cody Walker finished off a scintillating piece of play that started from deep within their own half. Doueihi added the extras to take the Rabbitohs out to an 8-0 lead.
The Panthers looked to respond in the 19th minute when Josh Mansour made a play for the try line at the end of a backline shift, however the winger failed to provide the finishing touch as Souths held onto their advantage.
James Fisher-Harris also made a play for the try line moments later, latching onto a Peter Wallace short ball and throwing himself at the Rabbitohs goal line defence. However the Rabbitohs wrapped up the second rower and forced a knock on as the Panthers were denied again.
The Rabbitohs came close to going ahead by 12 in the 29th minute when Walker directed a deft grubber to the Panthers in-goal, but Waqa Blake diffused the situation with some quick reflexes to hold the Rabbitohs out.
An error by George Burgess allowed the Panthers to march upfield where Peter Wallace attempted to burrow over from dummy half, but the Rabbitohs goal line defence held firm to keep their lead intact.
After the Panthers held out both Greg Inglis and Dane Gagai from close range, the Rabbitohs eventually crossed for their second try as hooker Damien Cook strolled through the Penrith defensive line in the 39th minute. Doueihi converted, handing Souths a 14-point lead at the break.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 0-14 RABBITOHS
The Panthers had several opportunities to hit back in the opening stages of the second half, but poor ball control saw the Rabbitohs hold onto their lead.
After Nathan Cleary was held up just short of the try line, the Panthers finally opened their account in the 51st minute when Wallace sent a bullet pass to Trent Merrin, who spun off a tackle and reached out to score. Cleary converted to take the score to 14-6.
The Panthers came close to back-to-back tries in the 58th minute when Alex Johnston failed to field a Cleary bomb and Dylan Edwards picked up the scraps to cross the line, only for the Bunker to rule that James Maloney knocked on in the aerial contest.
After Dallin Watene-Zelezniak was illegally dragged into touch, the Panthers surged upfield and closed the margin to four points when Cleary took on the line and linked up with Blake, who powered his way over the line. Cleary aced the conversion attempt from out wide, taking the score to 14-12 in the 66th minute.
The Panthers had a chance to hit the lead in the 72nd minute when Cleary swerved through South Sydney’s backpedalling defence and offloaded to Maloney in open space, but the five-eighth couldn’t hang onto the ball as Penrith remained behind by two.
The Panthers finally hit the front with just 4 minutes remaining when Dean Whare broke away from a strong Kennar tackle and offloaded to Cleary, who came with a terrific inside ball to Peachey for the utility to squirm his way over the try line. Cleary added the two points, extending the Panthers lead to 18-14.
South Sydney pushed hard for a last-ditch try after a late Cleary penalty goal attempt fell short, but the Panthers desperately scrambled to hold on for an emphatic comeback victory.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 18-14