Panthers crack Cronulla in extra time thriller

The Panthers have progressed to the SG Ball Grand Final after a thrilling 17-16 extra time victory over Cronulla Sharks at St Marys Leagues Stadium on Saturday.

The two sides could not be split at the end of regular time but a field goal from halfback Hayden Bonnano in the first half of extra time proved the winning play for the Panthers.

The Panthers opened the scoring in the 8th minute when Bonnano swept around the short side and put centre Matthew Faauila into a hole and over the try line. Centre Stephen Crichton's conversion attempt was waved away, and the score remained 4-0.

Zac Cini came close to doubling the Panthers lead in the 12th minute when he chased down a grubber to the in goal by hooker Maurice Trindall, but the football trickled into touch before the winger could get a hand on it.

The Sharks surged upfield and edged ahead by 6-4 in the 14th minute when hooker Isaac Longmuir scooted over the line and halfback Kai Broadhurst converted.

The Panthers quickly regained the lead in the 17th minute however, when five-eighth Matt Burton put on a dummy and a step to slice through the Sharks goal line defence and touch down. Crichton made no mistake with the goal, sending the Panthers ahead by 10-6.

The Sharks looked to hit back in the 23rd minute with a series of backline plays on the Panthers goal line, however Penrith defended desperately to force an error and come away unscathed.

The match broke out into a midfield tussle for the remainder of the first half, and handling errors prevented either side from having a genuine point-scoring opportunity before the break, as the margin remained four points in the Panthers favour.

HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 10-6 SHARKS

An error by the Panthers in the 41st minute gifted the Sharks a chance in the opposition red zone, and capitalised as Longmuir burrowed over again. Broadhurst failed to convert, and the score remained 10-all.

The Panthers came desperately close to hitting the lead in the 52nd minute when Maurice Trindall poked his nose through the line. However the hooker had the ball stripped from his grasp over the try line and the Sharks held on.

After also denying winger Ethan Clark-Wood over the try line, the Sharks marched into dangerous territory in the 57th minute and hit the front when Vito Tevaga found space out wide to plant the ball down. Broadhurst's conversion attempt was off the mark, and the score remained 14-10.

The Panthers responded off the back of a penalty in the 62nd minute, putting on a swift backline movement that resulted in Cini going over in the corner. Crichton was handed the tough task of handing the Panthers the lead from the sideline, but nailed the conversion to edge Penrith ahead by two points.

With just three minutes remaining, the Panthers were penalised for a shoulder charge, handing Broadhurst a simple penalty goal attempt. The Sharks halfback converted and locked the scores at 16-all.

The Panthers forced a mistake by the Sharks from the kickoff and lined up for a field goal to steal the win in the final minute of play but made an error before the shot could be taken, and the game was sent into extra time.

The Panthers forwards stepped up and carried the football deep into the Sharks half in the 3rd minute of extra-time, teeing up Bonnano to snap a field goal from 25 metres out and put the Panthers ahead 17-16.

The Sharks scrambled in throughout the remainder of extra time in search of points, but the Panthers kept Cronulla pinned in their own half and held on for a one-point win and a ticket to the SG Ball Grand Final.

FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 17-16 SHARKS