The Harold Matthews Panthers have one hand on the minor premiership following a 20-8 win over the Illawarra Steelers at Panthers Stadium on Saturday.
After being dominated throughout the first half, the Panthers clawed themselves back into the match and came away with a 12-point win, courtesy of a double to winger Ashley Cosgrove and tries to halfback Connor Mason and centre Sunia Turuva.
The Steelers had numerous opportunities to open the scoring in side the opening 15 minutes with consecutive sets on the Panthers goal line, but came up empty-handed as Penrith’s scrambling defence prevailed.
The Panthers’ first genuine attacking chance came in the 18th minute, and came close to capitalising when Liam Kennedy latched onto a Mason short ball and dived for the line. However the second rower was held up agonisingly short as the score remained 0-0.
It wasn’t until the 20th minute that the first points of the afternoon were scored when Steelers halfback Tyrone Roberts intercepted and ran 90 metres to score. Roberts failed to convert, with the score remaining 4-0.
However the Panthers responded in the 25th minute to cancel out the Steelers’ opener, when fullback Donovan Boney sent a grubber to the Illawarra in-goal and the ball bounced up perfectly for Mason to score. Boney converted to edge the Panthers ahead.
Despite the Steelers dominating the vast majority of the first half, the Panthers went out to a 10-4 lead in the 28th minute through Ashley Cosgrove. The Bathurst junior tiptoed down the right wing before fooling Steelers fullback Tyrell Sloan with a sidestep to score in the corner. Boney’s conversion attempt fell short and the margin remained six points.
The Panthers had an opportunity to extend their lead on the stroke of halftime when Mason and Kennedy linked up as they did earlier in the half, but the second rower was again held up over the try line.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 10-4 STEELERS
The Panthers carried their momentum into the second half with a 32nd-minute raid on the Steelers line, but Illawarra came away unscathed as a clever Boney chip to the in-goal trickled into touch.
The Steelers punished the Panthers for their wasted opportunity, as Sloan sent a cutout pass to winger Brandon Morkos, who powered his way over the line in the 35th minute. The Panthers remained in front however, as Roberts’ conversion attempt waved away.
An error by Illawarra from a scrum on their own try line allowed the Panthers to extend their lead in the 45th minute, as centre Sunia Turuva picked up the scraps to touch down. Boney added the extras to put the Panthers ahead 16-8.
The Panthers hit a 12-point lead in the 53rd minute when a terrific pass by five-eighth Niwhai Puru put Turuva in a two-on-one situation, and the centre simply passed to Cosgrove on his outside who athletically crossed in the corner. Boney’s conversion attempt struck the upright as a glimmer of hope remained for the Steelers.
Illawarra searched desperately for points to set up a grandstand finish, but the Panthers mauled centre Phoenix Vetenibua-Finnerty into touch in the 57th minute to put the result beyond doubt.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 20-8 STEELERS