The ISP Panthers prevailed 18-16 after a tough arm wrestle with New Zealand Warriors at St Marys Leagues Stadium on Saturday.
Panthers playmaker Jarome Luai was the star for the home side, finishing the tense win with a try and two try assists to his name.
The Panthers were forced to withstand some early pressure after conceding consecutive penalties on their own line, including one which saw Nick Lui-Toso put on report for a high tackle.
However it was the home side who opened the scoring in the 15th minute. Luai found a well-timed pass to put centre Adam Keighran through the line, and he spun out of the last-ditch tackle to score. Chad O’Donnell knocked the conversion over to give the Panthers a 6-0 lead.
The Panthers handed over possession immediately from the restart and the Warriors hit back. Prop Albert Vete powered his way over the line from close range. The simple conversion from Mason Lino locked the game up at 6-6 after 21 minutes.
It was more of the simple stuff in the 35th minute as Liam Martin burst onto a Luai pass to crash over. The young backrower had earned a vital penalty earlier in the set with another strong charge. O’Donnell was on target with the conversion to put the Panthers ahead 12-6.
Sione Katoa thought he had snared a try with 30 seconds left in the first half as he grounded a Wayde Egan grubber. But the referee intervened to rule the Panthers skipper was offside.
HALF-TIME – Panthers 12 – 6 Warriors
The Warriors struck first after the break as centre Blake Ayshford found acres of space on the right edge. Lino couldn’t convert from out wide, leaving the Panthers ahead 12-10 in the 53rd minute.
After a succession of missed opportunities from the Panthers, the visitors took the lead. Big man Patrick Sipley split some tired defence up the middle on a 30m run to score. The try was successfully converted by Lino and the Warriors led 16-12 with 10 minutes to play.
Losing the lead seemed to spark the Panthers into action and they hit back immediately as a Luai grubber rebounded off the post. The playmaker reacted first and scooped up the ball to score. O’Donnell’s conversion put the Panthers ahead 18-16 with five minutes left in the contest.
The Warriors claimed a try in the final five seconds but the referee ruled the ball was lost, rather than grounded, and the Panthers had held on.
FULL-TIME - Panthers 18 - 16 Warriors